New Home, New Chapter,          New Grants

Coming off a year of achievement and growth, the Rolfe Foundation looks to expand its message and reach.

Chicago, IL || February 2017 - - By any measure, 2016 was a banner year for the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation.  Rolfe organized events set new records for participation and attendance, grant allocations increased by 30%, and fundraising efforts raised more than a million dollars in the calendar year – a first in Foundation history.

When asked to reflect on the previous year’s accomplishments Rolfe Foundation Executive Director Lynda Robbins is proud, but notes Rolfe is far from finished.  “It’s a good start,” she offers.

Ms. Robbins has been at the helm of Rolfe since 2004.  In that time, she’s worked with board leadership to improve the Foundation’s communication efforts, expanded the reach of its message, and established a calendar of awareness-raising events.  In her view, 2016’s successes sprang from roots planted in 2011 at the Foundation’s inaugural outing of the 5k-fundraiser, DASH for Detection.  “As a large-scale, public event,” Ms. Robbins says, “DASH helped introduce Rolfe’s mission to whole new worlds of supporters.”

The increased public interest generated from DASH inspired Foundation leadership to pursue numerous avenues for growth, and results were quickly evident: in 2012, a new generation of supporters joined Rolfe and formally established the Young Professionals Board; in 2014, a dynamic new website was launched, further modernizing Rolfe’s ability to create awareness; and in 2016, the Foundation moved and expanded into a new home.

This year, in 2017, Foundation leadership is excited to kick off the initial phase of an ambitious plan aimed at introducing the Rolfe mission to new communities throughout the Midwest and increasing its impact on research.  As Rolfe board member Lisa Burik notes: “Pancreatic cancer isn’t local.” 

The Foundation will seek to foster consciousness of early detection throughout the region by establishing DASH events in other Midwest hubs, and partnering with major research institutions outside of Chicago.  Potential sites for the first satellite DASH are already being discussed; and last year a new grant was awarded via the Lustgarten Foundation to Dr. Diane Simone at the University of Michigan supporting her work isolating Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs).

“Even though we don’t have a blanket early detection screen researchers have identified certain populations who have an increased chance of developing pancreatic cancer.” - Lisa Burik

The whole effort will begin with the rollout of a major media campaign, whose goal will be to create a new awareness for the need to be proactive about pancreatic cancer risk.  “Even though we don’t have a blanket early detection screen,” explains Ms. Burik, “researchers have identified certain populations who have an increased chance of developing pancreatic cancer.”

Those groups include: tobacco users, patients diagnosed with diabetes, chronic pancreatitis or serious stomach ailments, and – perhaps most notably – individuals with familial histories of pancreatic cancer (studies show that up to 10% of pancreatic cancers may be inherited or are hereditary).

The Rolfe public awareness campaign will educate the public about pancreatic cancer risk factors, introduce them to available options, and encourage appropriate individuals to take steps to proactively monitor their health.  Genetic counseling is an option, as is joining a familial pancreatic cancer database, like the Rolfe supported National Familial Pancreatic Tumor Registry at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

As University of Chicago genetic counselor Jessica Stoll says, “people need to know the color of pancreatic cancer is purple like they know breast cancer is pink.  They need to know November is Pancreatic Cancer Month, and they need to know that just like you can proactively screen for breast cancer, there are ways you can also be proactive and monitor risk for pancreatic cancer.”

The increased attention generated by the Foundation’s risk campaign “will hopefully translate into increased support for research,” says Ms. Robbins.  “This past year, we directed about half a million dollars to research, which is wonderful because pancreatic cancer remains woefully underfunded,” she continues, referencing the fact that a mere 2% of the National Cancer Institute’s annual research budget is directed towards pancreatic cancer.  “In three to five years, our goal is to triple that gift.”

In addition to forging partnerships with new researchers, like Dr. Simeone, the Foundation also wants to encourage more collaboration between scientific investigators based at different laboratories.  “Breakthroughs lead to breakthroughs,” says Ms. Burik.  “We want to encourage our grantees to share their successes more readily and create the possibility for another researcher who sees the problem from a different point of view, to build on it, because an early detection test can’t get here soon enough.”

Published: February 10th, 2017.   

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                              This article also appears as part of the Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Foundation’s
                      electronic newsletter, The Catalyst (Vol. 4, February 2015 – The New Chapter issue). 
                                  To read more dispatches from The Catalyst, please click the links below.