The family who launched London’s translational breast cancer unit in the late 1990s has come through again.
The Breast Cancer Society of Canada started in the near-Sarnia basement of Kay and Lawrence Greenaway in 1998, a tribute to the memory of their daughter, killed by breast cancer that year at just 38 years old.
They donated $1 million to London Health Sciences Centre, which founded the Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Unit (TBCU) that same year.
The society has grown to become a national entity since but only about $2.5 million of the $12.5 million in grants it has awarded have landed outside the LHSC walls.
The society has focused on the TBCU because it’s “so world-class” and because of the strong connection the family has to the hospital, according to spokesperson Katarina Gagne.
On Wednesday (Sept. 10) Gagne was at LHSC with Pamela’s sister, Brenda McKay and her parents as the hospital brass took turns thanking them for their latest donation of $5 million to the TBCU.
Some of that world-class research mentioned in passing during the event includes work that led to the demotion of one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer to one of the most curable, and a blood test in the works that aspires to detect metastases as they’re occurring in real time.
You read that right – someday maybe soon, there’ll be an app for that.
“It’s huge to be able to hear there’s so much going on because of the generosity of the society and how grateful the staff at the hospital are,” McKay said.
What the London Health Sciences Foundation is calling the “lead” contribution to the cancer care portion of their $200 million fundraising campaign (which hit its halfway mark earlier this year) is the single largest gift in the BCSC’s history.
It will go toward two priorities: seed funding for researchers working on “high-risk, high-reward” projects that eventually help them attract even larger grants (like a business incubator for scientists) and the translational training program, scholarships for the next generation of breast cancer researchers.
The term “translational research” has been in the headlines increasingly in 2014. It’s about the dynamic between clinicians who treat patients and researchers, who work to make scientific breakthroughs in the lab.
They’re both important parts of the equation, but they speak different languages. A translational research unit acts as an interpreter between the disciplines, slashing the time between lab-based discovery and real-world advances in care and closing the gap between the “bedside and the bench,” according to LHSC president and CEO Murray Glendining.
He said gifts from the BCSC have already positively affected the course of research at LHSC.
“We couldn’t do it without these collaborative partnerships.”
It made a difference in Kelly Tranquilli’s recovery. The co-chair of the fundraising campaign and partner at Lerner’s said if not for the decade of advances between Pamela’s death and her own stage three cancer diagnosis and the translational nature of the TBCU, she could have shared her fate.
“I had an oncologist with direct access to the clinics,” she explained, “who was able to act on new information immediately instead of waiting for a symposium to debate it. The patient doesn’t have the luxury of waiting a year to find out if this is the new thing.”
She spoke directly to the Greenaways, watching quietly from the fringe of the crowd gathered for the announcement.
“We’re so grateful for what you launched in the name of your daughter,” she said. “You have made a difference in so many lives.”