Charge from President Harold B. Lee encourages group to find a cure for cancer

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    By JOHN GAMBEE

    United in tragedy.

    Renewed by success.

    Sustained by a charge given many years ago to a new university president.

    Student volunteers in the Cancer Awareness Group are going forward with the hope of altering the course of history by helping to find a cure for cancer.

    One girl who signed up for the club today just donated bone marrow cells for treatment of her younger brother’s cancer. Another is getting involved because of her family’s history with the disease.

    “My chances of getting it are pretty high because of their cancer,” said Sarah Lavine, 19, a dietetics major from San Lorenzo, Calif.

    “Cancer has affected me personally. It also has affected individuals in my immediate family,” said Crispan Carey, club president and a senior, double majoring in philosophy and economics, who underwent radiation therapy for Hodgkins disease as a 4-year-old.

    “I hope it would be possible to find a cure for cancer,” Carey said.

    Carey is not alone in his desire.

    According to the American Cancer Society, there are 50,000 who will die this year from cancer related diseases, and another 76 million Americans who will be stricken by cancer in their lifetime.

    BYU has a special role in the search for the answers.

    In the early seventies, when Dallin H. Oaks began his tenure as BYU president, President Harold B. Lee, then first-counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave him an inaugural charge regarding the future of the university.

    According to Dr. Daniel Simmons, director of BYU’s Cancer Research Center, President Lee paused and said, “I would like to dream and speculate a bit,” before delivering the charge to the science departments of the school.

    “We would hope that you would give to the students of this institution the vision of the possibility that the Eyring Science Center could make a significant contribution to the discovery of a cure for cancer — that treacherous disease that took the life of the great scholar — Dr. Carl Eyring, after whom the building was named,” President Lee said.

    And much is being accomplished.

    “We are here to serve people and do whatever we can to help find a cure for cancer,” said Jeff Allen, a junior civil engineering major, who was treated successfully for youth bone cancer five years ago.

    Allen underwent a stem cell transplant at that time. He had bone marrow cells removed and irradiated. Then, after undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments, the cells were put back into his marrow.

    According to Allen, the chemotherapy is specialized enough to attack rapidly dividing cells, but not so individualized to distinguish between cancer, stomach or hair cells.

    For that reason, the chemotherapy also causes nausea and hair loss.

    “The treatment kills cells in the stomach lining and the hair,” said Greg Horsley, a sophomore in American Studies, who volunteers with the CAG.

    Allen thinks of President Lee’s statement as encouragement to do his best.

    “I see it as a challenge to do our best, to achieve the most with the means we have,” Allen said.

    To increase the means to fight cancer, the CAG sponsors the Rex E. Lee Memorial Run. Because of corporate sponsorships that cover racing and supply expenses, each dollar paid by entrants in the run goes directly to cancer research here at BYU.

    Last year the run raised $8,000. This year, Rex E. Lee runners will be taking off on March 25.

    Meanwhile, the Cancer Research Center staff is putting these and other funds to good use as they strive to fulfill President Lee’s vision.

    “We have taken (President Lee’s statement) at face value. Brigham Young University can make a significant contribution to finding a cure for cancer,” Simmons said.

    Just over a month ago, the FDA approved the use of a drug developed at BYU. The COX II selective inhibitors were approved for use as preventive agents of people who have Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.

    According to Simmons, FAP predisposes people to colon cancer. Many individuals with FAP have 100s to 1000s of colon tumors by the age of 40. The COX II drug prevents these benign tumors from becoming malignant.

    The National Cancer Institute has approved and funded upcoming clinical studies on the drug to see if it can be used as a preventive agent in other forms of cancer, according to The Deseret News.

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