Richard Neubig spends most of his time searching for new and better treatments for skin cancer and other diseases. Once a year, he and his colleagues leave their labs and join thousands of others in the MSU Gran Fondo, a bike ride that is approaching $1 million in funding for skin cancer research.
“It’s actually very inspiring to see all these people out there supporting skin cancer research,” said Neubig, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the College of Human Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
The sixth annual MSU Gran Fondo will be Saturday, June 23, in downtown Grand Rapids. Routes include a 10- to 12-mile family course, a 25-mile course, a 40-mile course and an 80-mile course.
In its first five years, the ride has raised more than $810,000 to support the College of Human Medicine’s skin cancer awareness, prevention and research. As of mid-June, this year’s pledges totaled more than $115,000 with more rolling in. That money is important for basic studies of promising new treatments for melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and other forms of skin cancer, Neubig said.
“Oh, it’s critical,” he said, not only for the immediate discoveries, but because it can lead to further research funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. With MSU Gran Fondo funding, Neubig has studied compounds that reduce the spread of melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer – and prevent it from becoming resistant to other treatments.
Additional grants from the fundraiser will allow him to hire a postdoctoral fellow for two years to identify other drugs that could greatly improve treatment of melanoma, he said.
Neubig and other faculty, staff and students from his department will ride as a team. That includes Jamie Bernard, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology.
“I’m very appreciative about this funding,” said Bernard, “because I’m really passionate about preventing cancer.”
With money from the MSU Gran Fondo, she has studied the link between obesity and skin cancer and is beginning a new project to screen compounds that could prevent skin cells damaged by sun exposure from transforming to cancer, specifically basal cell and squamous cell, which account for more than three million diagnoses each year.
“Right now, I don’t think there is anything to inhibit malignant transformation,” Bernard said. “This is an unmet need. We’re looking for compounds that could block that transformation. The Gran Fondo funds have allowed us to do that.”
With MSU Gran Fondo support, Fredric Manfredsson studies the use of a virus to carry a protein into melanoma cells, causing them to die and preventing the cancer from spreading.
In his laboratory, the technique “killed it (the melanoma) very, very effectively,” said Manfredsson, PhD, an assistant professor in the college’s Department of Translational Science & Molecular Medicine. “We wouldn’t have done it without Gran Fondo.”
With this funding, the college’s researchers are able to study novel approaches to skin cancer treatments, said Norman Beauchamp Jr., MD, the College of Human Medicine’s dean.
“It’s often difficult to obtain funding for the novel, most inventive ideas,” he said, adding: “That’s how solutions are found. That’s what Gran Fondo allows our researchers to do.”
It also raises public awareness about the dangers of skin cancer, he said, and enlists the community’s support for one of the college’s important research programs.
“What I love about the event is it brings together a few of the things that matter to MSU,” Beauchamp said. “I’m appreciative of the community coming together to address this problem.”
Every single dollar raised goes to Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s skin cancer awareness, prevention and research. Click here to donate to a participant or directly to MSU Gran Fondo’s mission.