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UMass Cancer Walk turns 20 in September

New chief of pediatric cancer care introduced at kick-off event

UMass Medical School Communications

June 21, 2018

The UMass Cancer Walk and Run will celebrate its 20th anniversary this September. Sponsors and fundraising team leaders gathered on campus on Wednesday, June 20, to meet with cancer researchers and clinicians, tour cancer research labs, and get to work on the event’s ambitious goal of raising $750,000 this year.

“I have participated for 20 years, and it’s still so inspiring to see the thousands of people who walk and run to honor their loved ones and support cancer research here,” said Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Lambi and Sarah Adams Chair in Genetic Research, chair and professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology, director of the UMass Medical School Cancer Center and co-director of the Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research. “We’ve come a long way in 20 years. Today we have an unprecedented understanding of what makes cancer cells different from normal cells, and we are working to exploit their vulnerabilities and develop new therapies. That’s why clinical trials are essential, and that’s why the walk’s support is so important.”

Participating in the walk for the first time is Jason M. Shohet, MD, PhD, newly appointed associate professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center.

“When I first got to UMass, I heard a lot about the cancer walk and how important it is for the community and for supporting clinical trials going on here, so I’m very excited to participate,” Dr. Shohet said. “The clinical program here is very strong and it feels like a family. We are taking care of the kids as if they were our own children.”

A Massachusetts native and graduate of Boston University School of Medicine, Shohet came to UMMS from the Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In addition to his clinical practice, he leads a research laboratory focused on neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer that arises in the peripheral nervous system, often in the kidneys or spinal cord. “It typically strikes children less than 3 years of age,” Shohet said. “We are working to understand the genetic basis of the disease and the cells that initiate the tumor. We’re making progress, and I am optimistic, but we have a lot more work to do.”

Also new this year is the Central Massachusetts Business Challenge, an idea brought forward by the Niche Hospitality Group in Worcester. Businesses across the region are challenged to form teams and compete to see who raises the most money. Challenge winners will get special recognition in the fall.

“Worcester has given us a lot and we like to give back as much as we can,” said Deborah Covino, co-owner of Niche Hospitality Group, which operates several restaurants in the region. “We’d love to see some friendly competition among businesses in Worcester and Central Massachusetts, to form teams and raise money. Unfortunately, cancer is one of those things that affects us all, in some way or another, so if we can do something with the community and partner with UMass to fight against cancer, then that’s a win-win for us all.”

The 20th Anniversary Cancer Walk and Run is set for Sunday, Sept. 30, on the UMass Medical School-UMass Memorial Medical Center campus on Lake Avenue. For more information or to register, visit: https://umasscancerwalk.org/.

The walk was first envisioned by Dottie Manning and Bob Haynes, a Manning family friend and former leader of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. In 1994, Dottie and Dan Manning lost their son Danny Jr. to complications of leukemia. Two years later, Dan Manning Sr. died from esophageal cancer. Rather than recede into grief, Manning and Haynes decided to create a community event aimed at giving cancer patients a better fighting chance. Over the past 19 years, walkers have raised more than $12 million to support adult and pediatric cancer research and clinical trials of new potentially lifesaving therapies for residents of Central Massachusetts.

“This year is a major milestone for the walk, and we are hoping to see an amazing turnout from the community,” said Beth Whitney, manager of the walk. “It’s an opportunity for people to form new teams, and also for the many teams that have walked in the past, but perhaps not last year, to return and make this a 20th year reunion in support of cancer research right here in Worcester.”