September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

spriggs-davidSeptember is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and we are proud to fund the outstanding research of Dr. David Spriggs, who has worked with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, one of the best hospitals in the world, for over twenty years.

“In addition to the daily care of women with gynecologic cancers, I run clinical trials that are testing new, targeted drugs, and oversee a small research laboratory looking for answers to such questions as why certain tumors resist drug treatment and how genes can affect the development of tumors,” says Dr. Spriggs.

The David Spriggs Lab has focused its research in the area of ovarian cancer and drug resistance. Ovarian cancer is unique in that newly diagnosed disease is almost uniformly sensitive to chemotherapy yet nearly all patients will eventually succumb to resistant disease. The focus has been primarily directed at transcriptional and post transcriptional regulation.

Watch Dr. Spriggs as he is featured on our latest video, A Glorious Chorus, and check out our Upcoming Events to support a cancer research fundraiser in your area to allow us to continue funding the excellent work of Dr. Spriggs and our other research doctors.

Tony Martell of Vicky Martell: ‘The world has lost a wonderful person’

Tony and Vicky JAzz“The world has lost a wonderful person.”

That was how Tony Martell of Madison, NJ summed up his deep loss following the death of his wife, Vicky Martell, on Saturday night, Feb. 20, at their home on Garfield Avenue following a long illness. Mrs. Martell was 88.

With her husband, Mrs. Martell was the co-founder of the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research. She also served as the former longtime choirmaster at St. Vincent Martyr Church in Madison.

“She was always for the underdog,” Tony Martell said. “She always took the part of the weaker person. She loved people.

“She was my mentor, my lover, my friend. She was everything to me.”

Vicky and Tony Martell founded the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia, Cancer and AIDS Research following the death of their son, T.J. Martell, of leukemia in 1975 at the age of 19.

Tony Martell said many people were unaware of his wife’s key role in the foundation. “She worked hard,” he remarked.

“I like to think that she and my son are together. If there’s a heaven — and I know there is — they’re there.”

Over the years, the foundation the couple named for their son has raised more than $270 million for leukemia, cancer and AIDS research — which has been successfully leveraged into several billion dollars in additional funding from larger funding sources.

Vicky and Tony Martell also have been closely connected with St. Vincent Martyr Church. Mrs. Martell, described as an “enormously talented singer,” served the church as choirmaster for some 25 years, leading four choirs.

But that was not the whole of Vicky Martell’s dedication to the church, Tony Martell remembered.

“She was so devoted to the church. She bought choir robes. She bought the church a Clavinova,” a digital piano that also is capable of imitating the sounds of a large array of instruments, such as strings.

St. Vincent Martyr School was “enthralled” by the church’s Clavinova, “so she bought them one,” Tony Martell said, adding, “She bought 1,000 hymnals for the church. She put a new sound system in the church.

“She did so much. Whatever the church needed, she was at the table to give.

“I used to call her a plainclothes nun.”

Mr. and Mrs. Martell knew one another for 66 years — and were married for 64 of them.

The couple both hailed from the Scranton, Pa., area. She was not only a remarkable singer, but a talented trumpet player in a big band, and she immediately captivated Tony Martell, who worked in those days at a radio station.

“The first night I had a date with her,” he said, “I told her I was going to marry her.”

Through the T.J. Martell Foundation, as well as private efforts, the couple labored for four decades to improve the lives of countless cancer patients and their families. As Mrs. Martell grew ill, it was not always easy, but “she never complained,” Tony Martell said.

“Thank God she died peacefully.”

Congratulations are in Order!

Every year Billboard releases its prestigious list of Women In Music: The Most Powerful Executives in the Industry, and every year several of our board members are included for being “ground-breakers and game changers.” This year our board members Jody Gerson, Julie Swidler, Jennifer Breithaupt and Sharon Dastur as well as our New York Honors Gala honoree Marsha Vlasik were all listed. We are so honored to work with these incredibly hard-working women to continue our vital leukemia, cancer and AIDS research.

To read the full list, please visit

The Power of Philanthropy: Reducing the Burden of Breast Cancer

The longstanding history between the T.J. Martell Foundation and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center underscores the power of philanthropy in reducing the burden of cancer. While we celebrate the many advances that result from these powerful partnerships, we know that continued support will position us to make new discoveries that change the course of cancer for patients and families throughout the world.

Increases in cancer cure and survivorship over the past 30 years showcase the impact of discovery on cancer care. In 1971, one in 69 people was a cancer survivor, and a total of three million survivors lived in the United States. In 2012, one in 23 people is a cancer survivor, accounting for a national total of 13.7 million survivors. The collective efforts of all who fight cancer are responsible for these life-saving victories.

While these snapshots of progress are encouraging, malignant disease will continue to be common—and in need of directed treatment—for many years to come. Currently, between 35 percent and 40 percent of oncology treatment is genetically directed. While this represents an enormous increase over the last several decades, this figure also shows the potential and need for continued research and therapeutic discovery. This year alone, 1.6 million Americans will receive a new cancer diagnosis. The pace of discovery impacts the type of care each of these individuals will receive.

As we look to the future, to our ability to contribute to prevention, to develop new therapies and to use existing therapies in new ways, we are mindful of the enduring support we receive from our philanthropic partners. Without the strategic investments made by the T.J. Martell Foundation, Vanderbilt-Ingram’s ability to advance our understanding of cancer and impact patients’ lives would be distinctly different.

Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

A major focus of research in the laboratory of Jennifer A. Pietenpol, Ph.D., is to define molecular changes that are frequent in breast cancer cells and to use bench-based discoveries to advance patient care.  Treatment of patients with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) has been challenging due to the heterogeneity of the disease and the absence of well-defined molecular drivers amenable to targeted therapies. Thus, identification of predictive biomarkers is critical to select patients for more precise therapies against TNBC.  For the past several years, Dr. Pietenpol’s group has been integrating their expertise in molecular genetics, with bioinformatic analyses of high dimensional genomic data sets, to molecularly sub-classify difficult-to-treat TNBC.   They have  been identifying and validating molecular ‘drivers’ involved in different types of TNBC as well as using the information gained to benefit patients and to generate the next set of hypotheses that  they are testing at the bench.

Dr. Vandana Abramson of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

The laboratory will continue to investigate novel therapeutic approaches based on the genetic and biological underpinnings of TNBC.  They are very grateful for the T.J. Martell Foundation support and, in particular the recent support through the Martina McBride Cancer Research Fund as it has enabled a highly productive collaboration with Dr. Vandana Abramson, a leading medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Vanderbilt-Ingram.  The cross-disciplinary collaboration is allowing for more rapid advancement of pre-clinical data from the bench to the clinic and thus, alignment of patients to molecularly targeted therapy.

HPV-Positive Head and Neck Cancer Patients May be Safely Treated with Lower Radiation Dose

A new study suggests that lowering the dose of radiation therapy for some head and neck cancer patients may improve outcomes and cause fewer long-term side effects.

The research was presented by lead author Anthony Cmelak, M.D., professor of Radiation Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC), during the 50th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), held recently in Chicago.

The study focused on patients with newly-diagnosed oropharyngeal cancers related to the human papilloma virus (HPV). More than two-thirds of new head and neck cancer patients have HPV-positive tumors and the number of these patients is on the rise. Cmelak’s prior cooperative group study found that patients with HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer have significantly longer survival rates than patients whose tumors are HPV negative.

For the new study, 80 HPV-positive patients with stage III, or IVa,b squamous cell cancer of the oropharynx received induction chemotherapy, including paclitaxel, cisplatin and cetuximab.

After chemotherapy, 62 of the patients showed no sign of cancer and were assigned to receive a 25 percent lower dose of intensity-modulated radiation therapy – an advanced technology that targets the radiation beam more accurately to treat the tumor without harming surrounding tissue. The rest of the patients received a standard IMRT dose. The drug cetuximab was also given to both groups of patients along with the IMRT treatment.

Two years after treatment, the survival for the low-dose IMRT patients was 93 percent.  Those who did not have complete resolution of cancer following induction and went on to get full-dose radiation had an 87 percent two-year survival. Eighty percent of the low-dose patients and 65 percent of standard IMRT patients also showed no evidence of tumor recurrence.  Ninety-six percent of those who had minimal or no smoking history had no evidence of tumor recurrence after two years following treatment, and long-term side effects were minimal.

The investigators concluded that patients with HPV-positive cancer who had excellent responses to induction chemotherapy followed by a reduced dose IMRT and cetuximab experienced high rates of tumor control and very low side effects particularly for those with a minimal smoking history.

Treating tumors in the delicate head and neck region often causes side effects that can be troublesome and long-lasting, including difficulty swallowing, speech impairment, dry mouth, problems with taste and thyroid issues, so any therapy option that reduces these side effects can have an impact on patient quality of life.

“Treatment for head and neck cancer can be quite grueling, so it’s very encouraging to see we can safely dial back treatment for patients with less aggressive disease and an overall good prognosis, particularly for young patients who have many years to deal with long-term side effects,” said Cmelak.

He noted that lower-dose IMRT is not recommended for patients with HPV-negative cancer or larger tumors.

The authors note that further studies of reduced-dose IMRT in HPV-positive patients are warranted.

Other investigators include Jill Gilbert, M.D., VICC; Shuli Li, Ph.D., Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts; Shanthi Marur, M.D., William Westra, M.D., Christine Chung, M.D., The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland;  Weiqiang Zhao, M.D., Ph.D., Maura Gillison, M.D., Ph.D., The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Julie Bauman, M.D., Robert Ferris, M.D., University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute; Lynne Wagner, Ph.D., Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois; David Trevarthen, M.D., Colorado Cancer Research Program, Denver;  A. Demetrios Colevas, M.D., Stanford University, California; Balkrishna Jahagirdar, M.D., HealthPartners and Regions Cancer Care Center, St. Paul, Minnesota;  Barbara Burtness, M.D., Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Funding was provided by The National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health (CDR0000665170).


But Tony Martell Knew Me: Guest Blog Post

Bob Brown is an inspirational speaker and the author of “The Ride Of My Life”, the widely acclaimed memoir of his journey with pancreatic cancer.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a devastating and lonely moment.  No matter how sizable your support team, or who is in the room with you at the time, when the Doctor says “You have stage 3 inoperable pancreatic cancer,” you alone are forced to absorb that most difficult news.  My wife Linda was with me that fateful day in March 2008, and considering the immediate and overwhelming fog that overtook my brain, I was lucky to have her to physically compose and escort me back to our home.  During that ride in the car, my mind searched for the beginnings of a plan.  I knew that we would need to do a lot of research, reach out to a bucket load of doctors, and look for support wherever we could find it.  As I sat in the car watching the road go by, I had no idea who Tony Martell was….but he knew me.

The doctors explained that my treatment options were few, the success rate even less and that the short term prognosis was very grim.  They wouldn’t even discuss the long term anything.  They created a plan to try and shrink the tumor before it spread.  They hoped to get me to an operable status so that the toxic villain could be cut from my body.  The treatments called for chemotherapy, to be followed up with radiation supplemented with additional chemo.  I was determined and my spirits were high.  Those of my doctors were anything but.  Clearly this was going to be a long shot, against the cancer with the lowest survival rate.  Looking forward even a little bit meant I was moving into miracle territory.  I didn’t know a whole lot about miracles….but Tony Martell had seen quite a few of them.

I began the treatments with a fierce positive attitude, determined that I would beat the odds.  I prepared for the side effects which I was told would be bad.  That wasn’t entirely true, as they were actually much worse.  As the treatments extended into weeks and then months, I was rendered pretty much useless.  I made it to the treatments, but spent the remainder of time in bed totally exhausted.  Tony Martell spent those months just as he had most of the past 30+ years, tirelessly leading an organization dedicated to raising funds and supporting research to rid the world of leukemia, AIDS, and all types of cancer.

Well the treatments didn’t work.  The tumor shrunk only a little bit, and my oncologist and surgeon delivered the bleak news: “There’s nothing more we can do for you.”  My wife and I could not accept that, and we searched far and wide for other opinions.  We found a surgeon at Columbia/New York Presbyterian Hospital who saw my case differently and was willing to expand the boundaries of what was normally attempted.  If I was willing to accept the elevated risks of this surgery, then yes, he was willing to try.  I agreed, and he performed a fourteen hour “whipple” surgery that saved my life.  Today, five years after diagnosis, I am one of the few…a long term survivor of pancreatic cancer.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Columbia/NYP is one of the hospitals receiving funding from the T.J. Martell Foundation to advance innovative research and treatments.     Nor should it come as a surprise that I was helped by a foundation with which I had had no previous contact.  For as a cancer patient in need of the best innovative care, The T.J. Martell Foundation knew me.

When I was asked to speak at the Annual Gala in New York last year, it was my opportunity to give back to Mr. Martell and show my gratitude for everything he does.  I approached him, stuck out my hand and introduced myself.  He looked at me with a big smile and said “Hi Bob Brown, I know all about your story; you’re one of the luckiest guys in the world.  You beat pancreatic cancer.”

Like I said, I didn’t know Tony Martell, but he sure knew me.

Bob Brown is an inspirational speaker and the author of “The Ride Of My Life”, the widely acclaimed memoir of his journey with pancreatic cancer.

Helping People

This week, I learned about the passing of a young woman that I had connected with a few months ago when I learned that she needed some help with finding a doctor for her sarcoma diagnosis.

When I first spoke to her, I took some time to chat with her about some options of getting second opinions.  I also talked to her about being aggressive and doing everything possible to learn more about what she needed to do to overcome the disease.  She was very scared, but I told her that the best medicine for her at that time was to stay positive and focus on getting the right treatment.

I stayed in touch with this young lady and found her to be such a sweet person.  I tried to do my best with keeping positive and having an uplifting conversation with her to keep her going.  The interesting thing is she actually gave me an uplifting feeling about being able to lend a hand to someone I didn’t really know.

In the end, I am glad that I had a small opportunity to meet this young lady.  I realized this week that my role at the T.J. Martell Foundation truly reaches beyond events, meetings, conference calls, writing emails and raising money.  It is all about helping people.



Vanderbilt Researchers Find Potent Genetic Risk Factor for Breast Cancer

Researchers at Vanderbilt University have found a powerful new genetic risk factor for breast cancer.

Using data from population-based studies of women in Shanghai, China, Jirong Long, Ph.D., assistant professor of Medicine, and colleagues discovered a deletion in a cluster of genes, called APOBEC3 genes, that are known to trigger DNA mutation and which have previously been implicated in cancer.

If a woman has a deletion in one of the two sets of genes she inherits from her parents, her risk of breast cancer increases by 31 percent. If the deletion is present in both sets of genes, her risk increases by 76 percent.

“This is the first copy number variation or CNV identified for breast cancer and is one of the strongest common genetic risk variants identified so far for breast cancer,” the researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

For the full article, please click here.