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Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation Blog

by Adam Paris, ALSF

When childhood cancer hero Quinn Clarke started Kick-It, he thought of it as a way to bring his community together to support childhood cancer research by hosting charity kickball games. Now, millions of dollars later, Kick-It has expanded well beyond kickball to include any sport with ALSF games. Now, everyone can join the fight and help fund cures for childhood cancer.

Whether you love kickball, pickleball, dodgeball or any game in between, you can help! The key is fundraising before the game gets rolling. 

Here are a few ways supporters have made their events successful:

1. Empowering students to fundraise

One of the best ways to get started is by letting students lead the way! Their creative ideas can catalyze the community to pitch in, whether it’s through a car wash, lemonade stand or bake sale. Maria Schneider, a teacher at Broadview Heights Middle School, even had students organize their own vendor system, where they can sell baked goods, crafts or anything else to fellow classmates during the school day to raise funds. You will be amazed how much kids can raise. 

2. Offering sponsorship slots on custom t-shirts

Maria Schneider’s school also creates a custom t-shirt every year, with three designs created by the students. Then, they send out sponsorship letters to local businesses asking if they want to submit a donation to have their name or logo on the back. It gives everyone something to remember the event and can raise plenty of money in the process. 

3. Organizing a remarkable raffle

Jeremy and his colleague Steve at KeyBank organize their company kickball game every year. People were paying the donation to play, but their fundraising flatlined a bit. They wanted to incentivize players to up those numbers, so they decided to ask local businesses for raffle prizes. Top fundraisers on each team got a prize, anything from dinner and drinks at a local brewery to movie tickets and ice cream. Reach out to businesses for potential prizes your participants can’t resist winning. 

4. Holding a pancake breakfast or community dinner

Deana Harb is the mom of a childhood cancer hero and a longtime Kick-It organizer. All year, her local Applebee’s offers to open its doors for community breakfasts. All they needed to do was sell tickets for $10 dollars and they got 60% of the profits for their event. It was as simple as that. Once they had student volunteers signed up, that flapjack fundraiser got them off to a great start. See if any local restaurants would be willing to kick in a percentage of their day’s profits or let you take over for a community meal!

5. Asking for a minimum donation to play (and bring pizza)

Before getting people invested in fundraising, the first step for Jeremy at KeyBank is signing up participants with an added slice of incentive. A local pizza parlor donated pies for them to have at their sign-up table during lunchtime, so a hungry passerby can’t help but wander over to their table. Everyone who signs up pays a minimum donation and gets a slice of pizza while they’re at it. Those dollars get them started before the real fundraising starts.

Setting up games in your local park or rec center is easy and people of all ages can participate! Get started today. If you want any additional fundraising ideas, check out these tips you can use before game day. 

Kick-It, formerly a program of Flashes of Hope, is a national charitable athletic campaign to raise money for much-needed childhood cancer research. Kick-It partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) in 2017 in order to further the vision of a 10-year-old boy with cancer who wanted to help other kids like him. This partnership emerged from their similar beginnings as both charities were founded by children battling cancer. Learn more here.

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Fundraising Ideas
Exosomes could hold the key to improving outcomes in patients with Ewing’s sarcoma.

Dr. Glenson Samuel with Malina Cole, one of his patients. Malina volunteered to be part of a study looking for biomarkers for Ewing's sarcoma.

Exosomes could hold the key to improving outcomes in patients with Ewing’s sarcoma. 

by Trish Adkins, ALSF 

Thirty years ago, scientists discovered small particles floating outside of cells called exosomes. These particles were thought to be cellular garbage cans that served to clean up any waste produced by cells. But now, researchers, like ALSF Young Investigator Grantee Glenson Samuel, MD of Children’s Mercy Kansas City, are working to understand how exosomes could hold the key to improving outcomes in patients battling Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of childhood cancer typically arising in the bones of the body. 

Understanding Exosomes
Exosomes are far from garbage cans—in fact, exosomes are communication and coordination powerhouses. These little particles are released from cells in the body and then move around orchestrating the growth and survival of tumor cells. Exosomes can help make one part of the body more hospitable to cancer cell growth by encouraging an increase in blood supply. Exosomes can also help cancer cells cloak themselves from the body’s immune system.

Because they are‘mini-me’ versions of the cell of origin, exosomes can also be a great source of a disease’s biomarkers. Exosomes are detectable through a simple blood test and can be used by oncologists to monitor the presence, growth or death of cancer cells.  

In the case of Ewing’s sarcoma, Dr. Samuel discovered that the exosomes present in the blood of patients with confirmed cases of the disease by biopsy contained specific markers that are only present in Ewing’s sarcoma cancer cells. 

Critical Discovery
Dr. Samuel’s discovery gives doctors another leg up on Ewing’s sarcoma treatment and has the potential to allow for better diagnostics, treatment customization and long-term monitoring. The overall goal of this discovery would be to use this biomarker during therapy to help doctors see when a treatment is working (there would be less exosomes in the blood) or not working (there would be more exosomes in the blood).

After treatment, this biomarker test could be used to detect recurrence of disease before cancer cells may appear on a MRI scan. Since testing for the biomarker requires just 1/20 of a teaspoon of blood, it is non-invasive and relatively easy to add to a child’s routine clinic visit.

In the future, the biomarker test could make the initial diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma faster and potentially help doctors avoid the need for invasive biopsies. 

“There is also the potential to apply what we are learning here to other types of pediatric sarcomas,” said Dr. Samuel. 

Patients Powering Progress
Dr. Samuel’s research was made possible, in part, by funding from ALSF. But the real heroes of his research were the patients willing to donate a little extra blood during their clinic appointments. 

One childhood cancer hero, Malina Cole, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma when she was just over a year old. Her parents were told about Dr. Samuel’s study and immediately decided to sign on. All Malina had to do was give one extra vial of blood at each clinic visit with her usual blood tests during her regularly scheduled clinic visits. Dr. Samuel is using Malina's samples and samples from several other kids seen at Children’s Mercy to study the presence of Ewing’s sarcoma biomarkers during and after their treatment. In Malina’s case, the standard treatment protocol of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation has worked. Today, she is 5 years old and is cancer-free. 

With the help of these children battling Ewing’s sarcoma, Dr. Samuel proved that his biomarker test for Ewing’s sarcoma worked—paving the way for a May 2017 NIH grant that Dr. Samuel and his colleagues at the University of Kansas Cancer Center (Andrew K. Godwin, PhD and Yong Zeng, PhD) will use to develop a microfluidic chip that can check for the presence of Ewing’s sarcoma-derived exosomes in the blood. This chip has the potential to enable results to be ready within a few hours, giving doctors invaluable time to make treatment decisions and save lives. 

ALSF funds research to finds cures for all types of childhood cancer. Read more about Ewing’s sarcoma research here.

 

by Trish Adkins, ALSF

Dr. Jean Mulcahy-Levy, of the University of Colorado Denver got her start in research studying the behavior of fruit bats at the zoo.  

Now, she’s using Nobel Prize-winning science to find cures for brain tumors. 

Dr. Mulcahy-Levy’s research focuses on how blocking a cellular process called autophagy could eliminate brains tumors that have a specific mutation. All cells—both normal and cancer cells—perform autophagy, which is basically a cell-recycling program. Cells convert proteins within themselves into new energy. In 2016, a scientist named Yoshinori Ohsumi discovered the mechanisms that make autophagy happen and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology. 

Now in 2018, Dr. Mulcahy-Levy’s application of his work is leading to a potential clinical trial for children battling relapsed brain tumors. We spoke with Dr. Mulcahy-Levy about her research career. 

Who encouraged you to follow your passion for science and research?

(JL) When I was applying to college, I toured a couple of places. But it was when I met Dr. Becky Houck at the University of Portland that I knew I had found my science home. Her openness, passion and excitement for science was infectious, you just had to enjoy biology when you were around her. I was lucky enough to get my first taste of scientific research with Dr. Houck, studying the behavior of fruit bats at the zoo (funny question we tried to answer- did fruit bats have a preference for the right or left hand?) and how a summer camp education program changed kids’ perceptions of bats (changing kids view from vampire bat to cuddly cute fruit eating animals). 

Dr. Houck’s excitement for her work, and her constant support of my goals of being in science, were exactly what I needed to commit myself to a future in science. I have come a long way from trying to keep track of fruit bats and convincing kids the bats won’t eat them. But from that small project and the mentorship of my first strong female example of a scientist, I’ve never looked back.
 
What are obstacles that you have faced?

(JL) I think as a woman (or really anyone) in science you have to have the support of everyone around you to be successful. I have been lucky in that I haven’t had many obstacles to overcome and I have never felt that anyone thought I was inferior because I was a woman. 

I have had support from my female teachers and mentors such as Dr. Houck. But I have also been fully supported by the male teachers and mentors in my past. Dr. David Alexander, my pre-med advisor in college supported every way I tried to manipulate my schedule to get exactly the classes I needed to be ready for my medical training. He was also married to an intelligent and successful scientist in her own right, Dr. Paula Tower, and together they helped me get my first lab research job. From there, I have sought out the best research mentorships and training I could get.
  
How did Dr. Alexander and Dr. Tower’s support help you as a student?

(JL) I would never be where I am now without my pre-med advisor Dr. Alexander (affectionately known as Dr. A) and his wife Dr. Tower. College is a hard time and trying to get started in science is hard. But they constantly modeled not only excitement and joy in science but also the importance of home and family. Watching the two of them gave me a picture of what I wanted my life to be in the future. Dr. A passed away from colon cancer in 2013. But before then, he and Paula were my go to people to keep me sane during college, medical school, residency and fellowship. Paula continues to help me through the struggles of starting my own lab, training research assistants, how not to get annoyed at grant or manuscript reviews, and how I should really learn to cook (but that her house is always open if I need a good home cooked meal).

How has your family supported your career?

(JL) It has been traditional in the past that a wife will follow her husband for work. But my husband recognized early on that in order for me to succeed in research, I needed the freedom to go where the best training and opportunities were. He told me early in our relationship that he supports me and whatever I need to be successful. He has rearranged his life and the life of our son to give me the flexibility to surround myself with the best research environment. I could not have gotten to where I am without his selfless encouragement, willingness to pick up his life and move, and to sit there and listen to me drone on about some lab thing that is going great (or not so great) without falling asleep!

When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

(JL) A doctor. I was always going to be a doctor. I never did have a back-up plan, so thank goodness this is working out!

If cancer was cured, what would you be doing?

(JL) In my secret other life, I “work” in my husband’s motorcycle dealership and I am an officially licensed used car and motorcycle salesperson. So if cancer were cured, I would likely be spending my days working with my husband and playing with motorcycles!

In honor of Women’s History month in March, ALSF will feature interviews with some of our outstanding funded women researchers on the ALSF blog. You can follow along here

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