Fall 2009

Left to Right: Kim Warren, Liz Van Tassel, Darlene Christmon, Mary Beth Gadus, Maria Geise, Theresa Vernon
Front: Kim Warren, Liz Van Tassel,Mary Beth Gadus, Theresa Vernon; Back: Darlene Christmon, Maria Geise

100 Voices of Hope

How a giving circle funded a hunch

Mary Beth Gadus remembers it precisely, the moment in 1993 when she realized she could make a difference in cancer research. She wasn’t a scientist, but a wife and mother in the midst of a battle against breast cancer. Sitting in a lecture at IU by Dr. Judah Folkman, Gadus heard the pioneering researcher say that his theory of angiogenesis—killing a tumor by cutting off its blood supply—had been rejected for funding 21 times. “He had those rejection letters plastering his wall,” Gadus recalls.

Eventually Folkman got his grant, and his work transformed the treatment of cancer. “I wondered, how many lives could have been extended if his research had been funded sooner? How many other scientists have hunches they’ll never bring to fruition because they don’t have the money?”

Dr. George Sledge
Dr. George Sledge

Gadus’ own doctor, as it happened, had a hunch of his own. Dr. George Sledge with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center suspected that even when tumors are undetectable in people who’ve had breast cancer, the blood may still carry short strands of RNA known to be associated with tumor production. If it turned out that such micro-RNA was a reliable indicator of recurrence, patients could begin preventive treatment well before tumors form.

Inspired by Folkman’s story, Gadus wondered: Why not get 100 women to donate $1,000 each and put $100,000 toward Dr. Sledge’s idea? She named the project “100 Voices of Hope” and began calling friends. It wasn’t long before the group had reached their goal.

The result? Dr. Sledge and his team have confirmed that a certain type of micro-RNA is indeed present in the blood of breast cancer patients. Some of these micro-RNAs are present at different levels in the blood of cancer patients and healthy individuals. The next step is to perform studies in a large number of patient samples and see whether it is also present in breast cancer survivors. If it is, the findings will put Sledge’s team closer to their goal of preventing disease recurrence. Gadus and her 100 Voices of Hope are now pulling together to fund a new round of research.

Gadus gets goosebumps when she realizes that her group’s efforts may someday help save lives. “I still can’t believe that this thing we did had so much impact,” she says.

“When we told the scientists we’d raised the money, they were speechless. I explained that their work gives us hope.

“They said, ‘Your group gives us hope.’”

next story »