Salt Lake City—The fight against cancer just got a new ally—Qualtrics and a new community-driven initiative to raise funds for the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Ryan Smith, co-founder and CEO of Qualtrics, announced the Five for the Fight initiative that asks people to donate $5 towards cancer research in the name of someone they know who has battled with cancer, then invite five friends to do the same.
“It’s not a charity; it’s a cause,” Smith said.
To discuss the state of cancer research, Dr. Mario Cappechi and Dr. Joshua Shiffman sat with Smith at the Qualtrics Insight Summit Wednesday. Cappechi, a Nobel prize-winning cancer researcher with the Huntsman institute, said the state of cancer research had improved by leaps and bounds since the start of his career.
“We’re making progress,” he said. “First, we need to understand what this disease is and how it progresses, and once you have that understanding, you can work on therapy.”
Tracing the disease is made even trickier by the fact that the many ailments that fall under the “cancer” diagnosis share certain similarities but can behave in vastly different ways and have different causes, he said.
“Each one is different; each one has its secrets. We have to break them and develop treatments for each,” he said. “We have to study each one individually.”
Schiffmann, a pediatric oncologist whose work on the link between elephant genetics and cancer prevention has made headlines over the last several months, said because of the way the cancer prevention gene, dubbed P53, works in humans, odds are about half of the population will get cancer at some point. Elephants, however, have 20 times the copy of that gene—40, versus the two found in humans—and have very low rates of cancer, he said.
While elephants have the supergene prized by researchers, Cappechi noted that mice are somewhat easier to raise in a lab. Mice are quick and prolific reproducers, and have the useful attribute of being able to be biologically tweaked on the genetic level. In this way, researchers could alter mouse DNA to reflect the elephant version of P53, or study disease-resistant genes found in other animals, he said.
Research on animals does translate to research and treatment of humans, as well. With enough support—financially and otherwise—drugs borrowing the super-powered elephant cancer defense could be available in the next three years, Schiffmann said.
To bolster that support, Smith presented Peter Huntsman, representing the Huntsman Cancer Institute, with a $1 million donation, in addition to the proceeds from the Five for Fighting initiative. Huntsman said he was humbled by the donation and the initiative, and the breakthroughs that could come because of it.
“Society is so much better because of this effort,” he said. “We all have been touched [by cancer]. We all have been impacted. … [Eradicating cancer] is our legacy. This is something we can all be proud of.”
To take part in Five for the Fight, go to fiveforthefight.com.