More Research Led by Women, More Hope for Cancer Patients
Women are driving forces in the fight against cancer. According to recent data from the American Cancer Society, 50 percent of research funded by the ACS is now conducted by women.
That realization was the motivation behind the organization's newest initiative aimed to promote women in science - ResearcHERS: Women Fighting Cancer. The program engages women of influence to raise funds that directly support women-led cancer research. The program spotlights the life experiences and discoveries of women in research and aims to inspire the next generation of girls to pursue their dreams of a career in science.
"This campaign burst out of the question, 'Does the ACS have a responsibility to help women support other women?'" explained Jenny Stripling, executive director of the American Cancer Society of Tennessee. "When we realized how much of what we're funding is being done by women, we realized it was a real opportunity for us to highlight and celebrate what's taking place."
Stripling hopes the campaign will encourage more young women to pursue STEM careers, which have traditionally been underrepresented by females. She also wants to encourage young investigators to apply for initial funding and to give them the courage to pursue larger grants from other foundations.
Nashville is one of 15 markets nationwide participating in the ResearcHERS campaign. Currently, the ACS is funding $9.95 million in research within Tennessee, including programs at Vanderbilt and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
"As an organization, we want to put funds where the best science is," Stripling said. ACS ResearcHERS supports all cancer types and ages. The Society has a rigorous peer-review process to fund the most exceptional applications, regardless of cancer type, or gender of the applicant. Once the best research has been identified for funding, ResearcHERS funds will then be applied to women-led grants.
"The individuals working within that realm are making funding decisions based on the best science to move us forward in finding cures for cancer," Stripling said.
ResearcHERS' influential group of ambassadors are committed to raising a minimum of $2,500 each, serving as role models, and building awareness of the contributions of women in the fight against cancer. The campaign will run through May 2019. Stripling hopes more women will take an interest in joining the campaign and will continue to apply for funding through the ACS.
"There's always a place for someone with STEM interests to lean in and support each other and to encourage and help us in promoting this campaign," she said. "Our goal is to raise $125,000 in our first year, and I am thrilled to be carrying the torch for this inaugural ResearcHERS campaign."
ResearcHERS Ambassador Sheila Ridner
An Innovator in Breast Cancer Research
ResearcHERS Ambassador Sheila Ridner, PhD, RN, FAAN, is changing the future of cancer care. A Martha Rivers Ingram Professor and Director of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's doctorate in nursing science (DNS) program, Ridner is pleased to give back to the organization that has funded more than $1 million in her research since 2006.
"I got into research as a second career because I always said when I got older, I'd do it," said Ridner, a former healthcare executive and oncology nurse. "One day I looked in the mirror and realized it was time."
Ridner who received her doctorate from Vanderbilt in 2003, was a first-semester Vanderbilt PhD student when she wrote - and later received - her first federal grant for breast cancer research. Her focus on lymphedema in breast cancer treatment led to additional funding, partnerships with the ACS and pivotal research studies, including novel studies using expressive writing and yoga as coping tools for lymphedema patients during treatment.
Another current study focuses on the use of a compression device to reduce lymphatic swelling, which is common with head and neck cancers with 90 percent of patients experiencing some swelling as a result of treatment. Although historically more prevalent in men, HPV-associated head and neck cancer is a growing diagnosis among women. Ridner is also leading a massive, multisite international study testing a protocol to prevent lymphedema in breast cancer patients and just presented her interim findings at the American Society for Breast Surgeons meeting on May 3.
"I have a strong commitment to promoting research and want more women involved because there's a shortage of women in science and math professions," she said. "I've received funding from the federal government, various foundations and industries ... but without support of the ACS early in my career, it would have been much harder for me to be successful. They've always stepped up, and because of them, patients are the ones who've been able to benefit from my success."