Tag Archives: Samir Khleif

GRU hosts “Advances in Cancer Immunotherapy™ – Augusta, Georgia”

Georgia Regents University widened its already broad cancer focus Friday when it hosted the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer CME- and CNE-certified regional program “Advances in Cancer Immunotherapy – Augusta, Georgia.”

Organized by Dr. Esteban Celis, GRU professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Dr. Samir N. Khleif, director of the GRU Cancer Center, and Dr. Zihai Li, chair of the department of Microbiology & Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, the one-day conference was part of a series of “Advances in Cancer Immunotherapy” regional programs presented by leading cancer authorities across the country.

Designed specifically for members of the traditional cancer immunotherapy treatment team, these programs provide an understanding of basic immunology principles in the clinical application and management of cancer immunotherapy.

During presentations, emerging drugs and concepts in the cancer immunotherapy field are also typically discussed.

The event continues until 4 p.m. in the Health Sciences Building, Room 1204. A list of panels can be found here.

In hosting this event, the GRU Cancer Center has once again propelled Augusta into the ranks of other prestigious cancer research destinations across the United States, sharing the spotlight with cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Princeton, New Jersey.

Earlier this month, The GRU Cancer Center made another big splash when The Community Foundation for the CSRA donor-advised fund Press On donated $2.5 million to fund pediatric cancer research and treatment at GRU. To read more about that donation, click here.

His Hands on Earth: Pressing On to end childhood cancer

When Patrick Chance smiles, you can’t help but to root for him.

He’s a handsome child. Tall for his age, he was blessed with one of those classic boyhood grins – the sort of smile we convince ourselves exists only in fond memories and Saturday morning commercials. His nose is button small. His dimples have dimples of their own. And if his river-blue eyes weren’t already brimming with life, you’d swear they’d break you with their sadness.

He’s also a fighter.

It’s written all over his face. You can see it in the way he carries himself, in the way he talks and the way he laughs. He’ll go places one day. There’s no doubting that. And no matter what, he will never, ever stop fighting.

Patrick Chance1

But that Patrick lives only in photographs, now.

In 2012, Patrick Chance lost his battle with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found throughout the body. He passed peacefully in his sleep at the age of nine, but for six long years, he fought against an enemy he couldn’t see. The fight that claimed his life was never a fair one. His cancer was Stage Four before doctors ever found it.

Today, his story is an all-too-familiar one.

Every year, more than 10,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with pediatric cancer.

Some cancers, like acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), can be cured given enough warning. Others, like neuroblastoma – which lacks outward symptoms – can be deadly.

Often, by the time children show any signs of illness, the dice have already been thrown.

Thankfully, though, due to the efforts of a few local heroes, someday those dice might be loaded in the children’s favor.

Press On is a field-of-interest fund that invests in medical research focused on finding less toxic therapies for neuroblastoma and acute myeloid leukemia, two of the deadliest forms of pediatric cancer. A donor-advised fund of The Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area, Press On also has the distinction of being run in part by two former Augusta natives – Patrick Chance’s parents, Stephen and Erin.

The couple began their fundraising effort shortly after their son was diagnosed.

“It became obvious to us that there was minimal federal funding of childhood cancer research,” said Erin Chance, recalling with a fragile smile the period shortly after her son’s diagnosis.

In many ways, she resembles her fallen son. Both have the same characteristic sun-kissed hair. Both are tall and possessed of easy smiles, despite the hardships they’ve endured. But one minor difference separates them. Where Patrick was a fighter, his mother, Erin, is a warrior. Today, she bears the emotional scars of a lifelong campaign, the effort to see childhood cancer eradicated forever.

“We started fundraising efforts soon after through our local community to raise money to fund clinical trials here in Atlanta,” she said. “Out of those efforts, Press On grew.”

The Chances’ war began in June of 2006.

It wasn’t the sort of day you’d expect to bring bad news. In fact, for a summer day in Georgia, it was actually almost bearable.

“I just remember it was one of those beautiful clear Southern days,” said Erin, pursing her lips together thoughtfully. “The sky was as clear as it could be, and we were in this tiny little hospital room when the doctor came in and told us our son had cancer.”

At first, the Chances were told their son had a very curable form of cancer.

“The doctor left, and we told our family the bad news. Patrick had a type of leukemia, but it was a very treatable type,” she said. The Chances rallied, vowing that they’d get through it. They’d all fight. They’d all win.

But childhood cancer is especially cruel.

At the time of Patrick’s diagnosis, there was no widely recommended way of screening a child not already at risk of developing cancer. Patrick’s parents were both healthy, his sisters were strong and well. Outside of their obvious shock, there was no reason for the Chances to think anything more of their son’s diagnosis. Until it changed.

“About thirty minutes later, the doctor came back in,” said Erin. “He told us, ‘I’m sorry, I have to tell you something different.’”

Doctors told Erin that Patrick’s cancer, less than an hour diagnosed, was actually Stage Four. To make matters worse, they also weren’t sure what type of cancer it was.

Naturally, the Chances were devastated.

“I remember thinking how can it be so beautiful outside,” said Erin, wiping the first traces of a tear from her eye. “How can it be so beautiful when there’s all these families receiving news like this?”

But though their fight began in despair, the Chances wouldn’t fight alone for long.

Brennan SimkinsIn 2008, Brennan Simkins was a quiet child. He was bashful, reserved. Some would say humble. The only exception was when fate happened to bring him to the golf course. There, and only there, he reigned with a sort of silent pride.

But in January of 2009, Brennan received news that would forever change his life.

After weeks of inexplicable fatigue, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). At the time, he was just days short of his seventh birthday.

The diagnosis was crushing.

Turner Simkins, Brennan’s father, said he remembered feeling an unbelievable sense of dread after learning about his son’s diagnosis.

“It seems silly, but I remember thinking right after … I’m never going to see him grow up to be a golfer,” he said, bowing his head as his eyes welled up with tears.

But where some families would have given up, the Simkins turned to their friends for support. Luckily, those friends happened to be the Chances.

“We had been great friends for years, and we had been supporting one another through these great battles,” said Tara Simkins, Brennan’s mother. “We knew that, instead of fighting alone, we now had a reason to fight together.”

That reason was a shared concern.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common secondary cancer diagnosed in pediatric cancer patients. At the time of Brennan and Patrick’s diagnoses, chemotherapy treatments were so toxic that up to 10 percent of all pediatric cancer patients developed AML in response to their original treatment.

If Patrick survived his treatment, there was a high likelihood he would develop AML. If Brennan survived his original AML diagnosis, there was a strong chance it might come back. Faced with not one but two potential killers, the Chances and the Simkins made the only reasonable decision.

They joined forces.

The name Press On has tremendous significance to both the Chances and the Simkins for a multitude of reasons. In that simple phrase are contained the ideas of countless leaders and prophets, wise men and guardians. Even presidents.

“There’s a terrific quote that sums up what we stand for,” said Tara. “It goes something like ‘The only things that have ever saved the human race were perseverance and the desire to press on.’”

The original quote, delivered by former president Calvin Coolidge to the Women’s National Committee for Law Enforcement in 1933, is just a touch longer. It reads:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Though a powerful sentiment, according to Simkins, the attribution to Coolidge came well after the fund was named. In fact, the original reference comes from a source much closer to both families’ hearts.

“Stephen always used to sign off on his care pages with Press On,” she said, referring to the blog posts Stephen Chance would pen regarding his son’s treatment and condition. “It comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.”

The original passage reads:

“Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:12

The message speaks to perseverance as a way of living and growing closer to Christ. It’s a fitting piece of scripture, especially to Stephen Chance.

After all, in life, his son wanted nothing more than to follow in Christ’s footsteps.

“I think any time a kindergartener says they want to grow up to heal people, it gives you a glimpse into what he was thinking about,” said Chance, flashing a more refined version of his son’s signature smile. “He loved nature, and he loved fishing. But he wanted to heal people. That says something.”

In 2012, when Patrick passed, the Chances understood they couldn’t allow their mission to die with him.

In part, they said they carried on in his memory.

“He wasn’t there to heal people anymore,” said Erin Chance. “But we are, and we could be his hands on Earth.”

That’s what she says they are every time her family gives: her son’s hands on Earth.

But the Chances say the other reason they carried on was because they still had one young soldier left in the fight.

As Patrick’s battle was coming to an end, in many ways, Brennan’s was just beginning. The Simkins, like the Chances, were having to travel across the country for treatments, many of which were costly and ineffective. Their hopes were fading. Having already endured three myeloablative transplants in a little over a year, Brennan’s condition was worsening steadily, and the family’s options were dwindling fast.

Through it all, though, Brennan never lost his will to fight.

“Attitude has a lot to do with everything,” said Turner Simkins. “He’s a fighter, and that’s pretty simple.”

Brennan never complained about his treatments. He never griped or groaned, or asked “Why me?” In fact, the closest he ever came to complaining was on the eve of his darkest hour.

On the way to Memphis for a routine checkup, Brennan asked the one question no parent ever wants to hear. “Am I going to die?” Loving but realistic parents, the Simkins did what they could to dance around the subject, and for a time, they succeeded.

Two days later, though, they found out their son had relapsed for the second time. Their options had reached an all-time low.

Turner Simkins remembers well how he felt after that particular visit. Because of Brennan’s overall health, there was only one option left for treatment, and in this instance, the cure was as deadly as the disease. Brennan would need a fourth bone marrow transplant. To that point, no child had ever received so many so quickly.

Brennan Simkins1“We were told his chances of surviving didn’t even register,” said Simkins. “The body needs time to heal after a transplant, usually a year or so. Brennan underwent three in less than eighteen months. We were so worried that it would break his spirit.”

Until that point, Turner said his son had begun distracting himself with competition. At first, he lost himself in golfing, a sport he had always excelled at. Then, when the illness left him too weak to play, he took up video games, then cards – anything and everything that would allow him to fight back in his own unique way. In short, Brennan Simkins was addicted to winning. But could he win against fatal odds?

The Simkins said there was no other choice. Drained, worried and quickly losing hope, they bet everything they had left on their little boy.

“We understood we were out on a limb,” said Turner. “And the limb was creaking. But it was the only choice.”

Turner said during that period, he kept thinking back to his son’s question:

Am I going to die?

“I walked from the room where we’d spoken to the physician’s assistant and the head of transplant, after Tara and I had had this very frank conversation,” said Turner, struggling to find his words. “We knew the team was split on whether or not to proceed. I wanted to gather myself, so I left the parent room and walked down the hallway. While I was there, I happened to look into the fishbowl.”

The “fishbowl” was the name hospital staff had given to the conference room near the transplant ward. Named both for its peculiar shape and for the staff’s habit of peeking in through the room’s long viewing window, the fishbowl was a common hangout for transplant doctors on break. On that day, though, the room’s venetian blinds hid a very particular inhabitant.

“I looked in and saw the physician’s assistant who’d been talking to us just a few minutes before,” said Turner, his eyes weary, distant. “She was … weeping. I thought, ‘my god, how do they do this?’”

His thoughts raced.

How does a father explain death to his child, he wondered? How do you tell someone who’s fought so hard and for so long that they might not be able to keep fighting and that the choice is entirely out of their hands? He said the thought of making such a decision was enough to break him.

“The demons,” he said, shaking his head. “It was about learning to chase those personal demons away.”

But when he returned, Turner said his son had moved beyond worries over life and death. In his father’s absence, Brennan had made up his mind. He wanted the transplant regardless.

“He answered his own question,” Turner said, beaming with fatherly pride. “He wasn’t going to die if he could help it.”

And he didn’t.

The fourth transplant – an operation which, at the time, was unheard of – was a huge success.

The hope of Press On is that every child might have the same opportunities to fight that Brennan had. The organization also hopes children can someday start receiving those opportunities where they’re needed most. Here at home.

After all, that was perhaps the most surprising thing about Patrick and Brennan’s treatment. When the Chances first started putting together their son’s national cancer treatment team, they realized early on that something important was missing from their “Dream Team.”

“One of Patricks’ doctors was leading this consortium, and I noticed that no hospital in Georgia was included,” said Stephen Chance. “I called him and asked him how might Georgia be included, and he explained to me that one thing the dream team was lacking was an expert in immunotherapy, or vaccine therapy, for pediatric cancers.”

As it happened, Georgia had one such expert, and he was located somewhere very near and dear to the Chances’ hearts. That expert was Dr. Samir Khleif, director of GRU’s Cancer Center, right here in Augusta.

The next step was putting money in the right hands, and that’s just what Press On has done. On Sept. 3, Press On presented a $2.5 million gift to GRU’s Cancer Center in hopes of putting a stop to pediatric cancer once and for all. In the coming years, the money will be used to fund the Press On Translational Pediatric Oncology Program.

“The motivation of this gift is really to raise Georgia to the national stage in pediatric oncology treatment,” said Stephen Chance. “There was that opportunity to elevate GRU on the national stage if we could build a translational research program at GRU to support our vision, and that’s one component.”

The other component came in the form of Tony and Jeannie Loop.

Two CSRA residents with a desire to see children with cancer healed, they, too, had a good reason to join forces with the Chances. Like the Chances, the Loops are also well acquainted with suffering.

“Our son, Angelo, is the reason we do anything,” said Tony, overcome by tears. Racked by slow, quiet sobs, he held up a hand in a show of apology, a testament to his powerful personality.

“If we can help one child with this gift,” said Jeannie, “then that’s what we want to do.”

And that gift was substantial.

From left: Jeannie and Tony Loop

The lion’s share of Press On’s $2.5 million donation came from the Loops, and the company that Jeannie founded – the JANUS Research Group. While impressive, the couple said the amount was insignificant compared to seeing the CSRA community contribute to a worthy cause.

“It’s always nice to be a part of something bigger,” said Tony when asked about the possibility of his family’s donation leading to a cure. “But I would really say that Patrick and Brennan will be the ones who planted the seed. Through Patrick’s sacrifice of his life, and the battle that Brennan’s currently continuing. Well, we’ll be happy to be a part of that legacy.”

Today, Brennan lives his legacy. His cancer, once the biggest worry in his life, is now in remission. He lives at home with his family and has begun to play golf again. The going is tough, but his father says his health is improving day by day. Just like his game.

And though he never got the chance to go home, in his own way, Patrick lives his legacy as well.

He lives it through his sisters, Anna and Madison, who revel in his memory.

He lives it through his parents, Erin and Stephen, who fight, and will continue to fight, until pediatric cancer is a memory.

And he lives it through donations to cancer research. Especially those driven through Press On.

His parents say every dime of the money they receive goes where it’s needed most – into the hands of researchers – something they say will never change.

“So often you hear about how donation money is wasted or mismanaged,” said Stephen. “Well, Press On is just us. We don’t keep it. The money goes where it can do the most good.”

The Patrick you would have rooted for is gone. That will never change. He will never grow older. He will never ease into his father’s smile. And while his family and friends continue to press on in his stead, life holds no further mysteries for him.

He lives only in photographs now.

But the boy who wanted to heal? The little fisherman who wanted to see others live free of suffering?

He lives on. And he will, in the form of Press On, long after pediatric cancer is beaten.

Until then, though, his work here remains unfinished. Until then, his family and friends will continue to be his hands here on Earth. And until then, like Brennan, they’ll keep fighting until they win.

Because even in photographs, when Patrick Chance smiles, you can’t help but to root for him.

Pat Chance1



Press On gives $2.5M to fund pediatric cancer research, treatment at GRU

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Press On, a donor-advised fund of The Community Foundation for the CSRA that is pushing for a cure for childhood cancer, is giving $2.5 million to fund translational pediatric cancer research and cutting-edge treatment alternatives at the GRU Cancer Center. The announcement took place during a news conference Thursday at the GRU Alumni Center.

“We are building the infrastructure in Augusta that can serve communities that don’t necessarily have the ability to travel for treatment,” said Stephen Chance, who co-founded Press On with his wife Erin.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 10,000 children under age 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Pediatric cancer research, however, is underfunded because less than 1 percent of people with cancer are children.

“When you hear there are no curative options for your child, it stops you in your tracks,” said Tara Simkins, who runs Press On with her husband Turner and with the Chances. “What options can we create for our children? That’s been the driver behind Press On. ”

The $2.5-million gift will fund the development of the Press On Translational Pediatric Oncology Program at the GRU Cancer Center to boost the discovery and deployment of new treatment alternatives for childhood cancers. This grant was made possible with the long-term commitment of Tony and Jeannie Loop and the JANUS Research Group.

“Children are our future, and we have to help them,” Jeannie Loop said. “JANUS is looking forward to working with Dr. Samir Khleif, director of the GRU Cancer Center, and Press On to help children everywhere.”

“The Chance and Simkins families have seen firsthand the traumatic physical and emotional effect cancer can have on children. I can’t thank them and the Loop family enough for making the Press On Translational Pediatric Oncology Program a reality and for ‘pressing on’ in partnering with us on innovative research,” Dr. Khleif said. “Their generosity and devotion will positively impact the lives of our youngest patients for years to come.”

Press On was founded by Stephen and Erin Chance in 2006, when their son Patrick was diagnosed with neuroblastoma — a rare type of cancer that affects nerve cells. After a long and courageous battle, Patrick died in 2012.

In 2009, Turner and Tara Simkins joined Press On after their son Brennan was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a fast-growing blood cancer. Following years of care and an unprecedented four bone marrow transplants, Brennan is in remission.

Press On is a field of interest fund under The Community Foundation for the Central Savannah River Area‘s nonprofit umbrella. Press On invests in medical research focused on novel and less toxic therapies for neuroblastoma and AML, two deadly pediatric cancers.

For more information on what Press On is and how to donate money to the cause, visit cancer.gru.edu/presson.


Cannonball Kids’ cancer presents $100,000 research grant to Theodore Johnson, team

Cannonball Kids’ cancer, an Orlando, Florida-based nonprofit dedicated to eradicating pediatric cancer, presented its first research grant for $100,000 to Dr. Theodore Johnson and his team at the GRU Cancer Center. The grant will help fund a Phase I pediatric brain cancer immunotherapy clinical trial which may impact how brain and other childhood cancers are treated.

“This isn’t just funding research, this is funding a future for our kids. If we don’t fight for them, no one will.” said CKc co-founder Melissa Wiggins.

Johnson’s trial explores and tests new immunotherapy treatment options, which may change the paradigm of how pediatric cancer is treated. The immune system is naturally able to identify and destroy cancer cells. In order for cancer to grow, it must evade or disable the immune system. The body has checkpoint pathways, including one called IDO. Tumors use the IDO enzyme to escape the body’s natural ability to kill the cancer. Johnson and the team at the GRU Cancer Center have developed a drug, indoximod, which blocks the IDO, allowing the immune system to do its job.

“Brain tumors are the most common solid tumors in children, with more than 3,500 new cases each year. More children die each year from brain tumors, nearly 2,700 per year, than any other cancer,” Johnson said. “Immunotherapy treats cancer by enlisting the body’s own immune system to specifically seek out cancer cells and eliminate them, ideally leaving normal tissue undamaged. Immunotherapy is more natural and potentially less toxic than ‘high-dose’ chemotherapy, and it is likely to work better in children because their underlying immune systems are stronger than adult immune systems. Funding from organizations like Cannonball Kids’ cancer is critical to advancing innovative immunotherapy research in children.”

 “We are incredibly pleased and proud to be able to partner with Cannonball Kids’ cancer,” said Dr. Samir Khleif, director of the GRU Cancer Center. “Dr. Johnson’s research is a reflection of the level of excellent discovery occurring at the GRU Cancer Center, allowing us to help our patients with the latest innovations of new therapies for adults and pediatrics. More than merely a validation of the kind of innovative research and patient care we consider so important to our youngest patients, this partnership represents continued growth within our Cancer Center family — something we see as foundational for our continued success.”

In early 2015, the CKc board of directors met with several CEOs of established nonprofit organizations dedicated to childhood cancer to best determine where its research grant would have maximum impact. Johnson’s research study stood out to the CKc board after their meeting with Jay and Liz Scott, co-executive directors of Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

“Dr. Johnson’s clinical trial was especially striking to us. We knew this was our guy. Dr. Johnson is going to make a footprint in pediatric immunotherapy, and we are going to help him help kids around the world,” said CKc co-founder Michael Wiggins.

Funds were raised through a variety of grass-roots efforts including community-wide events, school fundraisers, CKc Card Club events, golf tournaments, online and personal donations, ballroom dancing events and proceeds from the sale of the book “Thankful For The Fight,” written by the Wiggins family about their journey to save Cannon’s life. Events and fundraisers have been held both domestically and internationally, reaching as far as Hong Kong.

“Our hearts are so grateful for each and every dollar and every person who donated funds to join our fight against childhood cancer. Every one, ten, hundred or thousand dollar donation was critical to us successfully reaching our goal of raising $100,000 in our first year. When the donations are added up, the total impact we have is incredible,” said Melissa Wiggins.

“Our team is devoted and dedicated to finding a cure for childhood cancer. ‘Go big or go home’ is our motto. This is just the beginning,” stated CKc chief executive officer Ashley VanDerMark.

About Cannonball Kid’s cancer

Based in College Park, Florida, Cannonball Kids’ cancer was founded in June 2014 by Michael and Melissa Wiggins, parents of Cannon Wiggins. When Cannon was 20 months old, he was diagnosed with Stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma. During the treatment of Cannon, Michael and Melissa learned so little time, effort and funding is devoted to finding cures for children’s cancer compared to adult cancers, and as a result, children are unnecessarily and unjustly lost. CKc aims to stop the tragic reality of children suffering and dying because of the lack of research in the world of children’s cancer treatments.

The “c” in cancer in the name Cannonball Kids’ cancer is intentionally lowercase to give the word cancer an inferior status.

TEDx Augusta: the online encore

At January’s second annual TEDx event, an impressive number of speakers – four of the 17 to be exact – were from GRU.

“For Georgia Regents University to be able to share some of its innovative thinkers with a TEDx Augusta that is potentially available to a global population gives us the opportunity to make more connections and have more visibility for what we do, but it also allows us to share our thought process with others, have them critiqued, and to learn from that interaction ourselves,” said Dr. James Rawson, Chair of the Radiology and Imaging Department, who spoke about virtual communities and social media.

Rawson was joined on the stage by Dr. Chris McKinney, Associate Vice President for Innovation Commercialization, Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center, and Steven Uhles, Director of Media and Marketing for the GRU Cancer Center.

The beauty of TEDx, of course, is that if you miss the talks in person, you can always watch them on YouTube. So if you didn’t make it to the Imperial Theatre and haven’t yet sought them out online, here they are for your enjoyment.


Rawson TED

TEDx McKinney

TedxAugusta Khleif

TEDx Steven Uhles


GRU launches special Initiative to reduce the burden of preventable cancers in Georgia

The Georgia Regents University Cancer Center today launched an initiative seeking to reduce the burden of cancer among minority and underserved populations in Georgia.

Within the cancer-Community Awareness Access Research and Education initiative, modules will be created to concentrate on one or more cancers that are either preventable or may be detected early enough to improve outcomes. Each module will use trained community health workers to deliver evidence-based, culturally appropriate cancer education.

John Damonti, President of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation

Short-term, c-CARE is designed to increase compliance with prevention and early detection recommendations and ensure access to needed services. The long-term goal is to reduce new cases and deaths from largely preventable cancers.

“Tremendous progress has been made in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment over the past few decades,” said Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center and leader of the c-CARE initiative. “Unfortunately, the benefits of these advances are not being experienced equally throughout our population. By working collaboratively with churches, clinics, schools, and other trusted institutions to build cancer awareness, improve knowledge and expand access, c-CARE will help eliminate cancer disparities in the communities we serve.”

Thanks to a three-year, $1.74 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the GRU Cancer Center will focus its initial c-CARE implementation on reducing the burden of lung cancer in the Central Savannah River Area.  Lung cancer is particularly lethal, causing more deaths than any other cancer among men and women of all races and ethnicities throughout the nation.  The American Cancer Society estimates that 4,640 Georgians will die of lung cancer in 2015, more than the combined deaths from breast, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

“We are pleased to partner with the GRU Cancer Center to reduce the burden of lung cancer among high disparity populations in the Central Savannah River Area through c-CARE, an innovative new model to enhance cancer awareness, prevention, care and supportive community services,” said John Damonti, President of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.  “We are excited to learn what c-CARE interventions are most effective so they can be scaled to address lung cancer throughout Georgia and across the country.”

Mayor Hardie Davis

The c-CARE lung cancer module will initially be implemented at 12 sites in the CSRA, including African-American churches, community clinics, and the Salvation Army Kroc Center of Augusta.   Community health workers at those sites will be trained to present current information about lung cancer prevention, guidelines for early detection, and new treatment options. c-CARE participants will be assisted as needed to secure tobacco cessation and lung cancer screening services.  When disease is suspected or diagnosed, participants will be navigated to proper care in the community, including clinical trials.

“The Cancer Center has made c-CARE the cornerstone of our commitment to improve cancer outcomes in Georgia, particularly for low access populations,” Khleif continued.  “Launching the lung cancer module in the CSRA with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is a great beginning. We will soon create c-CARE modules focused on breast, cervical, colorectal and other preventable cancers and expand c-CARE to reach more of Georgia’s neediest residents.”

GRU speakers prepare for TEDx Augusta

When Augusta’s second TEDx event is held at the Imperial Theatre on Friday, Jan. 30, four of the 17 speakers will be from Georgia Regents University.

For those who might not have seen one of the popular videos frequently shared on social media, TED Talks are relatively short and highly accessible speeches given by experts on everything from oceanography to the theremin. Known for their casual delivery and their insightfulness, they’ve become the gold standard for today’s lifelong learners, distributed free across the Internet in easily consumable bites.

Dr. Chris McKinney, Associate Vice President for Innovation Commercialization, said author Simon Sinek’s famous TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is his personal favorite.

Chris McKinney
Dr. Chris McKinney

“He brings discipline to how I do things,” McKinney said. “I’ve literally changed how I do some of my business based on that single TED Talk.”

Considering McKinney heads up the Office of Innovation Commercialization, that’s pretty high praise. Not only is innovation the currency with which he does business, it figures into his talk, which uses health care examples to talk about how everyone can help innovate and create the future.

While McKinney, like most TED speakers, is confortable in front of an audience, he said the relaxed, off-the-cuff presentation is not left to chance. Rather, the rehearsal process is actually fairly rigorous.

“I’ve been to TED, and it does look really well done,” he says. “It’s very disciplined, and for a guy who’s not used to writing speeches out, this is very different.”

That sentiment is seconded by Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the Cancer Research Center, who is speaking about a sustainable cancer health model for underserved communities. He was surprised by the preparations required by the organizers.

Dr. Samir Khleif

“I don’t rehearse my talks,” he said. “I’ve never rehearsed a talk in my life because I don’t like to give my talk more than once. I just do it when I’m doing it, because if you rehearse a talk, it becomes mechanical.”

While the majority of his talks are for the scientific community or those in health care, he says he’s looking forward to speaking to a wider, potentially limitless audience.

“Clearly, any time you give a talk, it’s either for an education perspective or to intrigue an audience about certain thoughts, to make them think about something,” he said. “Whether you give it to 100 people or 1,000 people, it’s always better to give it to 2,000 people or 3,000 people. It’s the same when you publish something. You want to put it out there. The more people who read it, the better.”

Steven Uhles, Director of Media and Marketing for the GRU Cancer Center, is the only nonacademic of the GRU contingent, but he is no stranger to speaking in front of crowds or giving his opinion. After 15 years with the Augusta Chronicle (he currently writes the “Pop Rocks” entertainment column for the daily paper) he is one of the most recognized contributors in Augusta.

Steven Uhles

“I’m a guy who likes to think about things, so to sort of spend an extended period of time rolling this thing over in my head has been an interesting experience,” he said. “It’s like writing a piece for a newspaper – you write that piece and you are sort of intensely in there for the day or two it takes to get it done, but then it sort of moves on. So, for me this has been a lot like writing an extended column and then being asked to do a reading of it. I’ve written thousands of columns, but I’ve never written them this long, and I’ve certainly never gotten up and said, ‘My Ode to Steely Dan.’”

Writing about how creativity is valued, Uhles is mining the artistic world he has covered for so long.

“Creativity is an abstract, and we’re always asking what something is worth,” he said. “My talk is about how can you value something that really exists on a theoretical level. What is a painting worth? It’s not worth the price of the paint, it’s not worth the price of the canvass. You’re paying for creativity, so how do we value that?”

For Dr. James Rawson, Chair of the Radiology and Imaging Department, the TED Talk process was familiar, since he was involved in the organization of last year’s TEDx TelfairSteet.

Dr. James Rawson
Dr. James Rawson

“This year, when it was moved to TEDx Augusta and the topic was going to be Connections, I thought that was a perfect opportunity to talk about social media, which we’ve been very involved in in our department.”

His talk, “Virtual Communities and Social Media: How Will You Use These Tools to Change the World?,” seems tailor made for a TEDx event, since that’s exactly what TED Talks have done on a large scale since 1984.

“One of the things that’s exciting about our audience is that it’s not a narrowed-focused audience,” he said. “It’s a very diverse group with a lot of different types of thinkers, and the opportunity to interact with them is very exciting.”

In fact, his only disappointment, he said, was the fact that he’s so far only been really able to connect with the speakers rehearsing in the time slots on either side of him.

One thing he finds especially interesting and symbolic, however, is the rehearsal space.

“We’ve been rehearsing to a large extent in something called theClubhou.se, which is actually the old Richmond Academy building,” he said. “I drive past the original Medical College of Georgia, turn into the driveway of the old Richmond Academy, walk into a building with a great legacy in education that’s being renovated for computer labs and BattleBots. To me, that’s part of the value of being able to do this in Augusta, leveraging all of the pieces of the community – the people and the organizations and the heritage that’s here – and putting it into this one TEDx event.”

According to Rawson, the exposure the GRU speakers will receive will benefit the enterprise’s reputation.

“For Georgia Regents to be able to share some of its innovative thinkers with a TEDx Augusta that is potentially available to a global population gives us the opportunity to make more connections and have more visibility for what we do, but it also allows us to share our thought processes with others, have them critiqued, and to learn from that interaction ourselves.”

Know someone who would love to attend? Email that person’s name and email address to AALIGOOD@gru.edu to give them the chance to win a free TEDx Augusta ticket.


U.S. sees more than 14 million cancer survivors, experts weigh in

Photo: Edward Maurer via Flickr

According to a Cancer Progress Report published Tuesday by the American Association for Cancer Research, there are now more than 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S. which are said to be the result of half a dozen advanced therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this past year.

Hear what GRU Cancer Center Director Dr. Samir N. Khlief and other experts have to say in The Augusta Chronicle.

GRU Cancer Center Director named to National Cancer Policy Forum

Khleif photoDr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center, has been named to the National Academies of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF).

The objectives of the Forum are to identify emerging high-priority policy issues in the nation’s effort to combat cancer and to examine those issues through convening activities that promote discussion about potential opportunities for action.

The NCPF provides a focus within the Academies of Science for the consideration of issues related to science, clinical medicine and public health, and policy as they relate to cancer. Reports published by the NCPF are made available to government agencies and  the general public.

Established in 1970, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.

The GRU Cancer Center is a multidisciplinary academic cancer center focused on both research and clinical treatment. Its patient-centered approach to treatment includes first-in-the-nation treatment protocols, an experimental therapeutics program that includes specialized clinics for Phase I trials and immunotherapy and a variety of ancillary programs – including nutritional and genetic counseling – designed with holistic healing in mind.

Follow the GRU Cancer Center on Facebook, Twitter, and at cancer.gru.edu.

GRU Cancer Center Director named to National Cancer Policy Forum

Dr. Samir N. Khleif
Dr. Samir N. Khleif

Dr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, GA has been named to the National Academies of sciences’ Institute of Medicine National Cancer Policy Forum (NCPF). The objectives of the Forum are to identify emerging high priority policy issues in the nation’s effort to combat cancer and to examine those issues through convening activities that promote discussion about potential opportunities for action. The NCPF provides a focus within the Academies of Science for the consideration of issues related to science, clinical medicine and public health and policy as they relate to cancer. Reports published by the NCPF are made available to government agencies, and the general public.

Established in 1970, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.