Tag Archive | "Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center"

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Wonder Women of Science

UM female scientists share some insight on women in science, science in Hollywood and how Wonder Woman is an icon of strength and smarts.

By Jessica M. Castillo
UM News


From right are oceanographer Lisa Beal, cultural neuroscientist Elizabeth Losin, moderator Cara Santa Maria and biomedical researcher Kilan Ashad-Bishop.

MIAMI (June 23, 2017)—With a primary weapon being her lasso of truth, Wonder Woman carries plenty of parallels to what scientists do—search for evidence and truth to help understand the world around them.

How many thousands of future scientists were inspired by Hollywood films Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Twister or Contact? The latest blockbuster superhero movie is no less inspirational.

On June 21, the new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science kicked off the first installment of the lecture series LIVE@Frost Science by featuring some of Miami’s very own wonder women of science from the University of Miami—oceanographer Lisa Beal, biomedical researcher Kilan Ashad-Bishop and cultural neuroscientist Elizabeth Losin.

The event, called Hollywood Science & the Wonder Women of Miami, featured a discussion on how the strong female persona in the superhero movie is continuing to be a role model for girls and young women.

“Female scientists are themselves like superheroes,” said moderator Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator and host of the podcast Talk Nerdy and co-host of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe.

Though there’s been some progress for women in science, she added, these superheroes still have to knock down barriers and shed layers of discrimination in subtle or blatant ways.

“I’ve been going to sea for 20 years and I’ve been on ships where I’ve been the only woman. It hasn’t been easy,” said Beal, associate dean of research and professor of ocean sciences at UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. “Considering Wonder Woman’s armor, I was thinking, you have to have some of that armor to get on a ship as a woman, and be in charge.”

Beal, who’s been the chief scientist on research vessels a half dozen times or more, focuses her research on ocean currents and the ocean’s role in climate, specifically climate change.

“It’s really one big ocean and I’m looking at how the different parts of the ocean are connected through currents,” said Beal. “The ocean is not homogenous at all. It’s kind of like a layer cake, and doesn’t look the same either horizontally or vertically.”

The ocean, Beal explained, has taken up 90 percent of the excess energy that society has dumped into the climate system through carbon dioxide emissions. “It’s effectively acting like a buffer for us right now. The climate would be changing even faster if it wasn’t for the ocean.”

 Lisa Beal, right, has led several research expeditions to the Indian Ocean's Agulhas current.

Lisa Beal, right, has led several research expeditions to the Indian Ocean’s Agulhas current.

Beal studies currents like the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic and the Agulhas in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa, the latter holding a special place in her heart in part because it produces some of the fiercest waters in the world. These expeditions are not for the weak-willed and, historically, have included mostly men.

But over the years, more and more women oceanographers are setting out to sea. Beal and her team helped put together a short film, Women in Oceanography, to celebrate the unprecedented number of women who joined an expedition to study the Agulhas in 2013.

In studying heterogeneous parts of the ocean, Beal is working to help answer when, where, and how the energy absorbed by the ocean will be put back into the atmosphere and how this would affect the climate in those regions.

Understanding heterogeneity and diversity is important not just for oceans and climate change resilience, but for societal resilience as well.

Ashad-Bishop, a Ph.D. candidate in biological and biomedical sciences at UM’s Miller School of Medicine, and Losin, director of the Social and Cultural Neuroscience Lab and assistant professor of psychology at the College of Arts and Sciences, both study how disparities and social demographics relate to health.

When Ashad-Bishop, who is African-American, was looking to specialize her research during her graduate program, she learned that young women and African-American women are disproportionately affected by breast cancer.

“Even though white women are more likely to develop breast cancer, black women are more likely to die from it. Obviously, that hit home,” said Ashad-Bishop. “That disparity, and trying to figure out a way to help with the problem, interested me.”

In her cancer research, which is overseen by her mentor, Karoline Briegel, associate professor and researcher at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ashad-Bishop works to try to “flip a switch so that mice can express a protein that can be treated and ultimately cured—turning the breast cancer from a more aggressive type to a less aggressive and more treatable type,” she said. “The idea of making a problem into something more solvable and treatable is very attractive and what really excites me about my work.”

Though she “belongs to a double minority, and a rarity, in most of the rooms that she frequents,” Ashad-Bishop said she’s never felt isolated and has had strong female mentors and role models, including her mother and graduate advisor.

Elizabeth Losin in Lab

In her lab, Elizabeth Losin, left, poses as a patient receiving pain induction from graduate student Steven Anderson.

Similar to disparities in breast cancer, Losin said, there are disparities in the pain experience. For example, she said, women tend to report more pain than men, and members of certain minority groups tend to report more pain than members of the majority. Losin works to understand the psychological and brain processes that are underlining our everyday social and cultural interactions, which are affected by experiences throughout our lifetimes.

Under the broad umbrella of cultural neuroscience, Losin is currently trying to determine “how social and cultural factors adjust the volume on people’s pain experiences,” she said, “because part of what we think is contributing to those disparities are social and cultural processes that range from experiences people have had throughout their lives, like discrimination, to experiences that they’re having acutely in the doctor’s office.”

As a neuroscientist, Losin uses various tools, ranging from asking a person about their pain experience and physiological tests, to simulating a doctor’s visit and using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to “really peak under the hood and look at what the brain and body can tell us about differences in pain experiences.”

Studying disparities is certainly important for understanding struggles that women in science still grapple with.

“We don’t see many women leaders or women scientists and so we assume that women are not very good at that,” said Beal. “But learning where some prejudices come from, that it’s cultural and not personal, that is a very powerful thing.”

The more these disparities are acknowledged, the women said, the more we’re empowered to overturn them.

“I haven’t seen many people that look like me in my field, but there’s beauty in the struggle,” said Ashad-Bishop. “Seeing women command the room, or people of color command the room, has felt really good. It makes me feel like I can get there.”

Having female role models is also very important.

“My graduate school mentor had a daughter and I was able to see how she navigated that and I found that really inspirational,” said Losin. “The issue of having kids is there. In academia, it’s hard to make that work. The system is really not designed for there to be a good time to have kids and not have it derail your career.”

Beal said it’s important to come together, to be strong and compassionate about the obstacles that all women face.

“Learning to have each other’s back as women,” said Beal.

After all, it’s what Wonder Woman would do.

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Join the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride Miami and Receive a 20 Percent Discount

wageHopeJoin the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Purple Stride Miami at Tropical Park, presented by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, on Saturday, February 11 and receive a 20 percent discount on your registration fee to run, walk, or virtually walk in the fight against pancreatic cancer. For the discount, use the code #WAGEHOPE to register . Learn more at support.pancan.org.



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Survive Cancer? Join the Sylvester Singers Survivor Choir

The music therapy program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center invites cancer survivors of all ages, abilities, and experience levels to join the Sylvester Singers Survivor Choir. Enjoy free lessons with no commitment and the physical and mental benefits of social singing. All styles of vocal music are welcome.

Rehearsals begin in January and will be held on Mondays from 2:30 to 4 p.m. in the Support Services Building, 1430 NW 11th Avenue, Miami. Parking fees will be covered. For more information, email SCCC music therapist Marlen Rodriguez-Wolfe, a graduate of the Frost School of Music, at [email protected].

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Forum Focuses on Inequities in Women’s Cancers

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Forum Focuses on Inequities in Women’s Cancers

By Maya Bell
UM News

Singer/songwriter Jon Secada, a UM alumnus, is joining Dr. Felicia Knaul’s crusade to improve the care and treatment of women’s cancers in the hemisphere.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 7, 2016)—Every minute of every day, three women receive the same devastating diagnosis that Felicia Knaul, the University of Miami’s first lady, received nine years ago while living in Mexico: You have breast cancer.

But if they are literate, documented, white, and happen to live in Florida, they’ll likely be diagnosed early, have access to institutions like Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Miller School of Medicine, and survive. If, however, they live in a resource-poor country, like Bolivia or Guatemala, their chances of surviving even treatable breast cancer are slim. They’re even less likely to survive preventable cervical cancer.

“Hundreds of thousands globally and tens of thousands in our region die every year from preventable cervical cancer or treatable breast cancer,” Knaul, the director of the University of Miami Institute for the Americas, said as she opened a symposium last Wednesday on “Women’s Cancers in the Americas: Strategies for Synergies” with sobering statistics. “The majority of them are poor. The majority of them lack access to care. The majority of them are women in the prime of their lives with children who depend on them.”

Closing that gaping cancer divide brought about 200 clinicians, health systems experts, and women’s cancer and patient advocates from more than 10 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to UM’s Braman Miller Center for Jewish Student Life to discuss synergies, strategies, and programs that can improve cancer care and outcomes in the region. Although planned for two days, the symposium was squeezed into one, thanks to Hurricane Matthew, which as an ominously fitting backdrop, had just left a trail of death in Haiti and was taking aim for Florida, a state far better equipped to survive such a disaster.

“Welcome to Hurricane Cancer,” Knaul, also a professor of public health sciences at the Miller School, said in thanking the people who had put aside personal preparations to address diseases that, like a hurricane, sweep into the lives of too many with deadly consequences.

Among them was one of the Frost School of Music’s most notable alumni, two-time Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Jon Secada. Known for his soulful pop songs, Secada pledged to lend his voice to educating women in the region to “take that first step” if they notice changes in their bodies, and not to fear the stigma of disease or disfigurement.

“This message has to come from many angles,” Secada said. “Maybe I can start by saying to all women, ‘You are beautiful. No matter what, you are beautiful.”’


From left are Jon Secada, Dean Shelton Berg, Patricia San Pedro, and Felicia Knaul, with San Pedro’s ‘Discover Your Doorway’ exhibit, which was on display during the symposium.

Also joining Secada at the forum was Frost School Dean Shelton Berg, a pianist who, accompanied by Kate Reid, associate professor and program director of Jazz Vocal Performance, provided a healing musical interlude. The Frost School’s director of marketing and communications, Patricia San Pedro, also exhibited the Discover Your Doorway photos she created during her own journey with breast cancer.

Delivering the keynote address, UM President Julio Frenk noted that before Seguro Popular, the program he implemented as Mexico’s minister of health to expand health coverage to more than 55 million uninsured Mexicans, nearly a third of Mexican women diagnosed with breast cancer abandoned their treatment because they could not afford it. Afterward, that number fell to 1 percent.

But as Frenk learned, money alone cannot fix the inequities that perpetuate the cancer divide in the hemisphere. Accompanying his wife on her breast cancer journey, he said he saw health care barriers that are even greater than lack of access. Among them: women who refused to get mammograms for fear their partners would leave them if they were diagnosed with breast cancer.

“What that made me realize is that the fight against women’s cancers, breast and cervical cancer is, of course a pubic health and a medical crusade, but it is most importantly a fight for the dignity of women,” Frenk said. “The other big cancer we have in our society is the cancer of stigma, discrimination, machismo, and the absolute pervasive attempt to reduce women to parts of their body. So this is a fight for the dignity of women.”

It is a fight, Knaul noted, that is making progress on many fronts. Better prevention science, early detection, better treatment, and persistent advocacy from groups like symposium collaborator ULACCAM, (the Union Latinoamerica Contra el Cancer de la Mujer) have led to increased survival rates. The most recent report of the American Cancer Society, she said, showed a 36 percent drop in breast cancer mortality in the U.S. over the past 22 years.

“That translates into 249,000 women’s lives saved in the last 22 years. That means one woman per hour over the last two decades,” she said, noting that globally cervical cancer deaths are declining, too, and it is now overwhelming a disease of the poor. “The vast majority of women, however, continue to lack access to information, intervention and available treatments that could have saved their lives.”

The hope is that, one day, they will have access to institutions like Sylvester, a regional referral center for the most complicated cases which boasts among the best cancer survival rates and strives to provide care organized around the patient, not the provider.

For example, Steven Altschuler, CEO of UHealth—the University of Miami Health System and senior vice president for health affairs, told the audience breast cancer patients should see an oncologist, surgeon, plastic surgeon, social worker, and the person organizing clinical trials all on one visit, not multiple visits.

“It all has to be integrated in the form of one-stop shopping,” Altschuler said. “That is the methodology that is the care model that provides the best results at the most appropriate cost.”

Among the many other speakers were Erin Kobetz, Sylvester’s associate director for Disparities and Community Outreach and the Miler School’s senior associate dean for health disparities, who has implemented the kind of cervical cancer detection and prevention initiatives in South Florida’s immigrant communities that could be exported across the hemisphere.

In addition to Sylvester, the Miami Institute for the Americas, and  ULACCAM, other symposium collaborators included the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Women and Health Initiative, and Tómatelo a Pecho, the organization Knaul founded in Mexico to address the inequities in care and treatment for breast cancer.







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Dolphins Cancer Challenge Raises a Record $5.06 Million for Cancer Research

DCC presents check for more than $5 million to Sylvester at Cancer Moonshot Summit

Special to UM News

DCC Check Presentation

From left: Michael Mandich, CEO of the Dolphins Cancer Challenge; Jason Jenkins, senior vice president of communications and community affairs for the Miami Dolphins; Eric Feder, vice chairman for the Dolphins Cancer Challenge; Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer; and Adam Carlin, chairman of the Sylvester Board of Governors.

MIAMI, Fla. (July 1, 2016) — Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine hosted a Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29 as part of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s nationwide effort to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. Across the country, hundreds of cancer centers, hospitals, and patient advocacy groups hosted summits – from Miami to Anchorage, Alaska.

“This is the first really full-blown collaboration where all the stakeholders came together, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it,” Vice President Biden said during the Cancer Moonshot live cast. “I want to thank you for your incredible work and your dedication. I am more optimistic than I have ever been since we launched the Moonshot.”

More than 80 cancer patients, survivors, their family members, doctors and researchers attended the two-hour event at Sylvester. The goal of the summit was to educate participants about the progress that has been made in cancer care and research at Sylvester. They learned what is on the horizon with regard to new cancer treatments, discussed individual experiences, and heard from the Vice President about the Cancer Moonshot and its objectives.

As a special surprise, representatives from the Miami Dolphins visited the Sylvester Cancer Moonshot Summit to present a check for more than $5 million for cancer research at Sylvester that was raised during this year’s Dolphins Cancer Challenge (DCC).

“Cancer impacts us all and we at the Miami Dolphins are committed to fighting this disease at every turn,” Miami Dolphins President & CEO and DCC Chair Tom Garfinkel said. “With the expansion of this year’s Dolphins Cancer Challenge to include two new Fall Family Fests, a concert, and golf tournament, we were able to give Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center our biggest donation yet in our fight against cancer.”

DCC funds are used to support truly innovative research, helping recruit and retain some of the world’s best minds in cancer research and care and investing in cutting-edge technologies to bring the latest in discoveries for detection, diagnosis, and treatment to cancer patients in South Florida and beyond. In just six years, more than $16 million has gone to fund research at Sylvester that leads to more effective targeted therapies for each patient’s cancer.

“We are so grateful to the Dolphins organization and to every rider, walker, runner, and fundraiser for continuing to support groundbreaking cancer research at Sylvester,” Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., said during the check presentation. “On behalf of our team of more than 250 cancer specialists and researchers at Sylvester – and our cancer patients and their families – thank you! It is a truly remarkable achievement as every dollar raised has a tangible impact on cancer research and advancing precision cancer care at Sylvester.”

After the DCC check presentation, summit participants had the opportunity to discuss their own experiences with Sylvester doctors and researchers, and follow up with questions on Vice President Biden’s live cast. Everyone in attendance was energized by the discussion and the Vice President’s remarks, calling for more collaboration to find better treatments and cures for cancer.

You can follow the conversations around the Cancer Moonshot Summit on social media by using the hashtag #CanServe.


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