Georgetown Medical Students Get Buzzed for Childhood Cancer Research

Posted in GUMC Stories

APRIL 19, 2015 –  After classes and before the weekend got underway in earnest, many at Georgetown were already buzzed.

Women and men with electric razors and scissors were busy working on the Georgetown University Medical Center faculty, staff and School of Medicine students who volunteered for Georgetown’s 6th Annual St. Baldrick’s Day festivities on April 17 at the Leavey Center’s Sellinger Lounge.

More than 40 participants shaved their heads in solidarity with pediatric cancer patients who lose often their hair during treatment. Female students with long locks had several inches cut off and donated their hair for wigs.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation funds childhood cancer research, in large part through their signature head shaving events. In 2015 alone, the Foundation has raised $26,663,075, which will be directed to “carefully selected research grants,” according to the foundation’s website.  

“Now that we’ve been doing this event for a few years, people are really excited to shave their heads,” said Vivian Yu (M’18), one of the event organizers at Georgetown. “We don’t even need to be pushy! People are really excited to be a part of it.”

As of Saturday, April 18, the Georgetown fundraiser had brought in over $22,000 for the foundation.

Participants had varying reasons for supporting the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Some, like HOYA Athlete PJ Koscher, didn’t have a personal connection, but wanted to support a good cause.

“This is my second year doing St. Baldrick’s,” said Koscher, “I’m on the Georgetown Men’s Soccer Team and this is an annual thing for us. It’s a great tradition to be a part of.”

Others, like Melissa Tretory, did it in memory of a friend.

“A boy I used to babysit for died from brain cancer,” said Tretory, “His brother has been doing St. Baldrick’s for many years now, but  he couldn’t make it this year, so I decided to step in.”

Head shaving wasn’t all that St. Baldrick’s Day had to offer. The event also included a musical performance by Joseph Timpone, MD , associate dean and director of the Office of Student Research at Georgetown’s School of Medicine, a bake sale, a bone marrow drive and a silent auction.

A Georgetown Connection

Also in attendance was Jeffrey Toretsky, MD , who received a grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in July 2014. Toretsky’s research focuses on a very rare form of cancer, Ewing sarcoma. The grant he received from St. Baldrick’s will allow him and his team to create a large messenger RNA map of the disease.

“When people talk about sequencing the genome, what they’re doing is just sequencing little pieces,”  said Toretsky, professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “What this grant allows us to do is sequence entire messenger RNA rather than small pieces, and that would give us a map of Ewing sarcoma that no one else has published.”

Toretsky and his team hope to use that map to predict how Ewing sarcoma patients would respond to therapy so that clinicians can determine the appropriate amount of therapy for each patient.  

By Leigh Ann Renzulli
GUMC Communications