Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Pitch Perfect

There’s no shortage of great opportunities to run, walk, bike, swim, shop or dine to help raise money for cancer research and care -- but did you know you can also help fight cancer with your iPod?

When Boston attorney, Paul Poth, was diagnosed with a rare form of hepatobiliary duct cancer in 2008 at the age of thirty-eight, his family and friends were shocked that the charismatic young father could be struck in the prime of life, seemingly at random. Paul’s fight was made all the more frustrating by the lack of research and treatment information available for his disease, cholangiocarcinoma. In fact, rare diseases like cholangiocarcinoma are often called “orphan” cancers because they lack the awareness and funding of more widespread conditions like breast cancer.

As Paul and his family searched for ways to treat cholangiocarcinoma, they discovered that many researchers and clinicians were starting to think about cancer in a new way.Genotyping– a process that analyzes each tumor’s unique genetic makeup – has yielded insight into the triggers and weaknesses of many cancers, and targeted therapies are being developed to attack these mechanisms. Genetic signatures can be present in tumors regardless of where they are found in the body. A mutation found in melanoma might also appear in breast cancer, and the same targeted therapies can work for both. This new focus on personalized medicine gives hope to those affected by “orphan” cancers. If all cancers are classified by their genetic mutations, patients with rarer conditions might turn out to fit into a larger group after all.

When Paul foundedTargetCancerin the spring of 2009, he wanted to use his passion for music to help raise awareness of rare cancers and fund research into novel targeted treatments. Instead of organizing a gala or a 5k run, Paul and his loved ones reached out to supporters in the local music scene to gather rare and unreleased tracks that could be sold to benefit TargetCancer. They createdThe Right Track: Tunes to TargetCancer, a website where users can download the benefit songs, make donations and find out more about the cause. The response has been overwhelming:

“After a few bands got involved, we were amazed and thrilled to see how word got around – and how enthusiasm is still growing– throughout the music scene,” recalls Kristen Palma Poth, Paul’s wife and President of TargetCancer. “It’s so cool to see hits from all over the world because we’re spreading awareness along with the music. And since TargetCancer’s Board of Directors covers all administrative costs, all the funds we raise go toward fighting rare cancers.”

The Right Track: Tunes to TargetCancer continues to grow, featuring bands from Tracy Bonham to Weezer. This year, Bill Janovitz of the band Buffalo Tom even coordinated a group donation of holiday tracks in support of the site. In addition to maintaining the music downloading site, TargetCancer is also branching out into hosting live events. The group held a very successful combination silent auction/concert in the fall, and hopes to help supporters host their own events to benefit the cause in the near future.

Though, sadly, Paul Poth passed away in August 2009, TargetCancer continues his mission to find hope for others through personalized medicine. The first grant made by the organization was given in support of the Center for Molecular Therapeutics at the Mass General Cancer Center. Most recently, TargetCancer awarded a grant to help further bile duct cancer research, also at the Cancer Center. TargetCancer plans to fund additional rare cancer research in the near future.

“It’s our hope that through music, we’re raising awareness and support for research that will help those suffering from rare cancers, and that what scientists learn from the process could help an even broader spectrum of patients,” explains Kristen. “By using such a fun medium we’re also staying true to Paul’s exuberant spirit. Paul loved music and he loved life, so supporting potentially lifesaving work while having a great time is truly honoring his legacy.”

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