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Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation Blog

 

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

by Megan Tanney, ALSF

There are so many ways to raise money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), some you may not even know about! For example, did you know that when you shop online you could be generating a donation to ALSF? We made a list of our favorite, easy-to-use sites and platforms so you can start making a difference today.

1. Shop on Amazon Smile

As you know, you can buy almost anything on Amazon! When you shop at Smile.Amazon.com and select ALSF as your charitable organization, the Amazon Smile Foundation will donate .5% of your eligible purchase price to us. While that may seem like a small percentage, every penny counts when comes to finding a cure! In 2017, we were able to fund over 100 hours of research through Amazon Smile shoppers!

Click here and start giving back while you shop today! You can also download the Chrome extension Smile Always to redirect you Smile.Amazon.com every time you shop. Watch the video here for a step by step guide.

2. Shop for (or sell) items on eBay for Charity

In 2017, $84 million was raised for charities through eBay! That’s $160 raised every minute. Talk about a big impact! Sellers can donate a percentage of their sales to ALSF, and buyers can also make a direct donation at checkout. All donations are tax-deductible too! Select ALSF as your favorite charity here, and start shopping products that help kids with cancer. 

Psst! If you’re a seller–the most popular categories for charity listings are nonfiction books, women’s clothing, laptops and tickets or experiences. eBay will also credit back a portion of your seller fees. It’s a win-win!

3. Take Surveys on Survey Monkey Contribute

Start making a difference by taking surveys at contribute.surveymonkey.com. For each quick survey you take, $.50 will be donated to ALSF.

Sign up for free here, choose ALSF as your charity to support and surveys will be sent to you based on your profile. 

You can also download the Survey Monkey app and make an impact while you’re on the go!

4. Donate a vehicle

Your old car, truck or boat can benefit kids with cancer! Through our Cars that Cure program, you can donate anything with an engine, from construction equipment to snowmobiles. The process is quick and easy! Fill out the online form or make a toll-free call to (855) CAR ALSF or (855) 227-2573. 

5. Download the Good Cents App

Are you on your phone a lot? Turn that time into a donation by setting up a reoccurring donation to ALSF based on how much you use your phone! Download the Good Cents app, select ALSF as your charity and set your donation amount per hour and your monthly maximum giving. The Good Cents app will track your hourly screen time, and at the end of the month, it will equate your usage into your charitable donation to ALSF!

Start taking small actions today and you can make a big impact on a child’s future. If you have any questions, please contact Megan Tanney at 866-333-1213 or [email protected].
Check out our donations page to learn more about all the ways to give.

Categories: 
Fundraising Ideas

Dr. Catherine Flores, with childhood cancer hero Sawyer. 

by Trish Adkins, ALSF

Ever since she was a child, Dr. Catherine Flores, of the University of Florida, loved the challenge of experimenting and investigating the origins of things. Now, as a pediatric cancer researcher, Dr. Flores is applying those interests to curing childhood brain cancer. 

ALSF awarded Dr. Flores a Young Investigator grant in 2015, which she used to study the preclinical development of adoptive cell therapy to fight high-grade gliomas,  a category of fast-growing pediatric brain tumors with particularly poor survival rates. Her project laid the groundwork to better understand how a child’s own immune system cells could be altered to fight brain tumor cells. This research may lead to better survival rates and minimize the use of treatments with high levels of toxicity. 

Her work also led to a phase 1 clinical trial that studies the use of immunotherapy in kids with high-grade gliomas. The study is set to open in March 2018 and phase 1 will determine safety and dose. It is the first immunotherapy study of its kind for children, moving the oncology world one step closer to a breakthrough and a cure. 

We spoke with Catherine Flores about her work and what it is like to be a woman researcher. 

What made you want to get into science and research? 

(CF): I have always been a curious person. I love exploration and experimentation. I love the discovery. I find "failed experiments" to be a challenge, not a discouragement. I never really realized that there aren't many women in science until my first faculty appointment and I am one of only two tenure-track female faculty members in my department. 

What are obstacles that you have faced?

(CF): I have a two-year-old and balancing life is such a challenge. Being a researcher is not a 9-5 job, so rearranging the day and writing at night to get it all done was and is a huge obstacle. But I love it all. It is just challenging, that's all. 

Sometimes, I feel a little judged when I come to work covered in banana, or can't do 6 pm meetings. BUT, I do a huge amount of work between my daughter's bedtime and sunrise. 
    
If cancer was cured, what would you be doing?

(CF): When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I love the ocean and its animals. It is still fascinating. After I cure brain cancer, I still want to be a marine biologist. 

Who are your role models?

(CF): Working moms with multiple children and Michelle Obama. 

Do you have an impact story from your research—a story when you saw your work help children?

(CF): We have a clinical trial out of our program for children with recurrent medulloblastoma and PNETs. One of our patients, Sawyer, had always wanted to be a scientist. So I closed down the lab for the day and set it up to make it "Sawyer's lab". We had a personalized lab coat made for him with the University of Florida and his name all embroidered. We set up a kid-friendly experiment for him on each bench complete with exploding bottles, dry ice, glow in the dark chemistry, all the kid things! At each bench, I had a different grad student helping him - because grad students in lab coats are super cool to an 8-year-old boy. Then we all had pizza which is his favorite. His mom mentioned that Sawyer had said it was more fun than Disneyland. 

Sadly, Sawyer passed away the following Christmas. Even though we couldn't ultimately help him fight against his disease, we at least let him be a scientist for a day. Sawyer was already unstable on his feet from his cancer, so his dad was there to keep him steady. That family made an impact on our grad students and researchers because we were all touched by him and inspired and motivated to do more. As lab researchers, we generally don't come in contact with patients, but it was amazing to see who we are trying to help. Interacting with him during a fun time made me want to work even harder. It also made me realize that receiving grants and manuscripts (our metrics as academics) are great, but they are nothing compared to actually finding a cure. 

This picture of me (above) with Sawyer making magnetic slime, is my favorite. It hangs in my office to inspire me every day. 

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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