AACR Volunteers and Ambassadors
Since 2016, the American Association for Cancer Research® (AACR) has been honored to be the beneficiary of Party With a Purpose, a cause-driven gala supporting cancer research. Thanks to the Friends of the AACR Foundation and a band of steadfast supporters, the volunteer-led group has had tremendous success. The most recent event was held in Philadelphia on October 29, 2023.
Matt Ryan, son of AACR Foundation Board of Trustees President Stephen D. Ryan, was drawn to the gala after his father told him about “the immediate, tangible impact the funds raised have on research.” The younger Ryan joined the Friends of the AACR Foundation planning committee in 2022 to have an impact on the disease that took two grandparents and an aunt within a decade. He served as a gala co-chair for 2023.
The annual event is centered around the selection of winners for a Humanitarian Award and a Scientific Achievement Award. The Scientific Achievement Award winner, in turn, bestows on a young researcher a $50,000 Early Career Investigator Grant. This year, past planning committee president Beverly Goldberg received the Humanitarian Award. The Scientific Achievement Award winner was John M. Maris, MD, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Maris selected Timothy Spear, MD, PhD, to receive the Early Career Investigator Award. The grant mechanism celebrates careers of breathtaking importance, while also setting the stage for the next generation. Past recipients of the Early Career Investigator Award have called it seminal to their research. “The AACR believed in us,” said 2018 recipient Veronica Rodriguez-Bravo, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “We were able to take risks and explore unusual questions in the field of chromosomal instability and lethal prostate cancer.”
This year, the committee chose to support pediatric cancer research. “Combating the cancer that targets the most vulnerable is a cause that deserves nothing less than steadfast support,” Ryan said. Dr. Maris and Dr. Spear have made amazing strides at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in researching neuroblastoma, a cancer that originates in nerve tissue and often begins in early childhood. While four out of five neuroblastoma patients respond completely to treatment, the cancer recurs half of the time. With the awards, the researchers can further investigate the viability of personalized vaccines to help patients avoid relapse. During the planning committee’s site visit to their lab in June, the researchers stressed how important financial support is to their work and mission.
To date, Party with a Purpose has raised nearly $10 million for many needed areas of cancer research.
Each year in early November, more than 50,000 runners embark on a 26.2-mile journey across the five boroughs of New York City as they run toward the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon. “The energy and inspiration from the runners and fans are contagious,” said New York City resident Elizabeth Andrekovich, who for many years looked forward to seeing the runners go by her street. This year, she was one of them.
For the first time, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and its running team, AACR Runners for Research, was named an Official Charity Partner for the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon, which took place November 5, 2023. Several runners, including Andrekovich, represented AACR Runners for Research in the race. She ran the race in memory of her late grandparents. “My Grandma would walk daily in her vibrant tracksuit, waving hello to the neighbors and keeping an eye on the birds,” she said. “She and Grandpa believed in the power of sport, community, and charity.”
Andrekovich added that she was motivated to finish the race by imagining her grandparents proudly waiting for her at the finish line. “I wish they were here, but I am confident they’re still watching,” she said.
Running the marathon in New York City was a bucket list goal for Kate Watts, and supporting cancer research, a mission she cares about deeply, made achieving her dream more fulfilling.
Anna Smukowski joined her fiancé, Aaron Roche, for the marathon. In celebration of their upcoming wedding, they raised funds to support lifesaving research that contributed to treating Roche’s brain cancer in 2008.
Stephen Goodnick ran the 2022 Philadelphia Marathon 8K as part of the D-Team, a group that raised $98,000 for sarcoma research. He motivated himself to complete the New York City Marathon by thinking of the strength and perseverance of people who have had cancer and of a close friend who died of the disease.
Finally, Penelope Bartlett ran in honor of her mother and the many friends and family members who have had their lives uprooted by cancer.
The AACR is grateful to the runners who ran the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon as AACR Runners for Research and hopes more join them in 2024.