Groundbreaking research funded by cyclists

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.

Rick Neubig

MSU’s skin cancer researchers and their teams will ride with more than 1,600 participants at this year’s MSU Gran Fondo!

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.

Richard Neubig

Richard Neubig, PhD, is focusing on how to reduce metastasis of melanoma cells and improve the effectiveness of drug therapies.

“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.”


Dr. Jamie Bernard is studying ways to prevent non-melanoma skin cancers by identifying compounds that prevent epidermal cell transformation.

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.”

Frederic Manfredsson 017-002-134

MSU Gran Fondo funding has given Dr. Frederic Manfredsson the opportunity to study a virus that could carry a protein into melanoma cells, causing them to die and prevent the cancer from spreading.

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.

Four ways to stay motivated during winter training


By Dakota Hewlett
Michigan State University graduate student, MSU Cycling Club President

1. Get your friends involved!

This brings us back to that saying we all know, “the more the merrier.” Training by yourself for long periods of time can get boring, so encourage your friends and coworkers to train for, and ride, the MSU Gran Fondo with you. Not only will you enjoy your training a lot more, but you will build stronger bonds with your training buddies as you all work hard to support the cause.

2. Training doesn’t always have to happen on the bike.

Spending all your free time riding the stationary bike indoors is a sure way to burn out and lose motivation in the cold winter months. Spice up your training by doing things like cross-country skiing, running, going to the pool or gym and hiking. Finding other ways to be physically active off the bike will mean your time spent on the indoor trainer will be focused and diligent. Remember to keep your training fun and use your training buddies to keep each other motivated and excited for the Gran Fondo.

3. Set goals.

Set measurable and achievable training goals for yourself. If you able to make a training plan for yourself and see your goals written down you, you then will be motivated to stick to that plan and check off those goals when you accomplish them.

Some example training goals, set your own goals to meet your individual needs:

  • I will ride at least ___ hours every week
  • I will participate in my local group ride each week
  • I will ride three times a week, and lift weights once

4. Think about the big day.

Its June 23rd, 2018, the big day has arrived: Imagine yourself leaving the start line in Grand Rapids, looking ahead and behind all you can see are cyclists up and down the road. You are one of over 1,000 cyclists that put in countless hours of training for this day. Each and every rider has a reason to be here today, and each rider is proud of their accomplishment up to this point. This enormous crowd of people has come together to support a cause they believe in by raising money and training hard for Fondo 6.

Visualizing what it will be like on the big day is a great way to keep yourself motivated, and remind yourself why you spend so much time sweating in the basement on the trainer, or freezing your toes off on those cold training rides. Everyone has their own reasons for riding, and remembering yours is a great way to keep focused.

Good luck out there!