THE CURE WITHIN®
Pennies in Action® was founded in 2007 by Uschi Keszler - Olympic athlete, Olympic coach, and double cancer survivor. Having survived and seen the conquering of tuberculosis in her youth, and now as a survivor of both breast and uterine cancer, Uschi is determined to see cancer beaten in her lifetime too.
As an elite athlete, Uschi was aware of the power and resiliency of the human body. So when she decided to help find a way to beat cancer, she knew that she could not support something that would destroy the body in order to heal it. Finding out that her surgeon was already in clinical trials of a vaccine that utilizes the patient’s own immune system to fight breast cancer, she knew she had found her first project. Dr. Brian Czerniecki’s research is a perfect fit with Uschi’s goals and her philosophy. Uschi was not a trial participant herself, having not fit the trial criteria.
Pennies in Action is about more than just raising funds for cancer research – Uschi has a strong belief that everyone, young and old, rich and poor, those with health insurance, and those without, can have ownership in the research. One does not have to be wealthy to have an impact on raising funding. The amount one person may give may be relatively insignificant, for a penny alone has little value, but many pennies make many dollars. Success in funding the research and the power to make a difference can come from just a few pennies if everyone takes part in even a small way.
We are also about education – we want patients touched by cancer to know that there are alternatives available. We want people to know that there is information, and many clinical trials out there that they may be able to benefit from. We want them to be able to discuss with their doctors if a trial might be something they could participate in, to their potential benefit, and the eventual benefit of others. We want them to know that taking part in a trial may save them from having to undergo more drastic solutions, and may help save the lives and quality of life for others as well as themselves. Doctors learn so much from these trials, and the medicine just grows in leaps and bounds. We strongly believe that an educated public will provide the foundation for researchers to conquer this disease.
Cancer is not impersonal, and it has touched many people’s lives in some way. Which is why our approach is very personal. We believe our approach has the potential to empower by keeping people informed of both the progress in the research and the advancement in the financial support of the research. Since all those who contribute from few pennies to more hold a concrete stake in the research that can remove cancer as a threat, Uschi believes that full disclosure must be the norm. Which is why we disclose the amounts we have raised, and give information on the researchers and their research, and on the efforts of those who help us in raising funds.
In addition to our main project, we will always take on other causes that are close to Uschi’s heart, and will fund those alongside that main project.
THE VACCINE: EXPLAINED
A Randomized Trial of HER-2/neu Pulsed DC1 Vaccine for Patients with DCIS
The T lymphocyte (T cell) is a very important white blood cell; found in the immune system it is capable of directly attacking infections or cancer and controlling other cells. Czerniecki’s work has shown that T cell subtype Th1 is critical for successful immunity against cancer in particular and is unique in its ability to produce a factor called interferon gamma (IFN-γ).
A regulatory T cell (Treg) can switch off strong immune responses during repair or keep the immune system in check to prevent autoimmune disease, however cancer cells have evolved to subvert such regulatory powers. In fact, tumors recruit Tregs to protect their own defenses from the immune system.
Dr. Czerniecki’s vaccine strategy is centered on a white blood cell called a dendritic cell (DC). DCs collect information on potential dangers to the body and present these to T cells. The T cells then decide how best to deal with the threat. By extracting DCs from cancer patients, Dr. Czerniecki was able to infect them with the cancer so when inserted back into the body Th1-type T cells embarked on a search and destroy mission against any cell bearing the cancer proteins presented by the DC.
It had been a concern that despite the tumor’s line of Treg bodyguards might effectively blunt the attack. However, Dr. Czerniecki and his team have shown that this might not be the case. When Treg cells and normal T cells were incubated together in the test tube, as expected, Treg cells prevented regular T cell activity. Interestingly, when DCs were added, regular T cells regained their function and the cease and desist orders typical of Tregs appeared to be annulled. Looking more closely, the team was surprised to find that Tregs were no longer looking or behaving like Treg. Instead, they were taking on the character of the cancer-fighting Th1 cells, and were even making IFN-γ. The vaccine DCs turned the pacifists into fighters!
MEET THE TEAM & KEY COLLABORATORS
BRIAN J. CZERNIECKI, MD, PhD Dr. Brian Czerniecki is Chair and Senior Member in the Moffitt Cancer Center Department of Breast Oncology. Dr. Czerniecki received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Maine and his MD from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and his PhD from UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson and Rutgers University. Dr. Czerniecki completed his general surgical residency at The Ohio State University and was Surgical Oncology Fellow at the NCI with Dr. Steven Rosenberg prior to his position at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. While at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Czerniecki served as Professor of Surgery, Perelman School of Medicine; Attending Surgeon, Department of Surgery, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania; and Co-Director of the Rena Rowan Breast Center–Recruitment and Center Expansion.
GARY KOSKI, PhD received his PhD in immunology from Johns Hopkins University and postdoctoral training in cancer immunology at the NIH. He has held research positions at the University of Penn and The Cleveland Clinic.
USCHI KESZLER is an Olympic athlete and coach, and double cancer survivor. Having survived TB in her youth, and more recently survived both breast and uterine cancer, Uschi is determined to see cancer cured in her lifetime. She founded Pennies in Action® in 2007 and has been instrumental in raising funds for Dr. Brian Czerniecki's breakthrough vaccine.
MESSAGE FROM USCHI KESZLER
Thank you to my wonderful family: my husband Aram, my son Marc, his wife Annemarie, and my grandsons Corey and Justin. Without their support and love none of this would be possible....
Have you made a difference today?!!!
Till eight years ago, skating was my life. I lived on skates, and skated through life. I am a former Olympian for Germany and have coached skaters in 6 Olympic Games. I have worked with 5 World Champions, winning 6 Olympic medals and 21 World medals. I guess you can say I play to win!!!! I am a certified black belt executive coach specializing in gap analysis and finding win-win situations. Above all, I work on creating synergy within a team. I am also part owner and Executive VP of IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston PA.
Eight years ago my life changed with my breast cancer diagnosis, and a year later with my uterine cancer diagnosis. No one ever had cancer in my family. So I saw that no one is safe from this horrific disease.
After a bad experience with another doctor at another hospital, I ended up at Penn with Dr. Brian Czerniecki. I said I would do anything he asked me to do as long as it would not kill my immune system. (I was not eligible for the vaccine since I was ER+. 1 1/2 years later I got a call that he wanted to talk to me about his research. He had run out of funding.
Two weeks prior I had woken up in the middle of the night and thought… I had great grades in school, and could have done anything. Why didn’t I do something that made a huge difference like trying to get rid of cancer... It blew me away when I got that call. After hearing about it, it was a no brainer to get involved. It made sense to me on every level: it was non-toxic and uses your own immune system the way God created it.
How do you start, never having done anything like that? I checked out other foundations, but you have no control where the money is going. Plus it was a bad economy, and trying to start a cancer foundation alongside the giants that have been around. In Florida riding my bike with a friend, I saw a penny, stopped, almost got hit by a car, and picked it up. She was shocked.
I grew up hearing, “He who does not honor the Penny is not worth the dollar.” The idea was born.
I was talking to Theresa Murtagh (my neighbor) about my idea on a Saturday morning, when Paul Murtagh and Brian McDevitt (an attorney specializing in tax law and non-profits) walked in, and Theresa said, “He is the guy you want to talk to.” After I talked his ear off and back on he agreed to do our 501(c)(3) for us pro bono. (Come to think of it, he has not been back to their house on a Saturday morning...lol) Then Theresa offered to do a party at their beautiful home as a kick off. April 25th will be our 7th Showers of Hope at their home.
In order to control where the money goes we needed to get a term fund at Penn by pledging $ 25,000.00. When you collect pennies, that is a large number. Ashira Prossack and the kids at the rink came up with the name, Michelle Prossack was doing our web site, John O’Mally our Trademark, Jim Sundra our logo, and all pro bono. Wow, we were ready. Thus the vision and implementation started within eight days!!!!
Then I met Ursula Koldovsky, PhD, who ran Dr. Czerniecki’s lab and made the vaccine. She was from Germany and over a 2 year period, patiently in many conversations (in German), gave me insight into the world of cancer vaccines and cancer immunology. Till the day she died three years ago from pancreatic cancer, she thought 24/7 about this wonderful research and stayed true to the cause no matter how sick she became. That is why all my work is dedicated to her memory.
On a side note: In Germany she was the head of the TB lab where all my specimens were analyzed while I was in the hospital for eight months.
We did not meet till forty years later at UPenn, and became the closest of friends. She told me if she could have got the vaccine she would have been ok. I know she is smiling down and is excited in seeing what Dr. Czerniecki is doing.
We have raised enough funds to keep this research going for the last six years by paying for the tools needed (incubators, microscopes, peptides, computers), and covering the shortfall in funding for vaccine for all the patients. Then the Henle Fund came on board and funded two Research Fellows who have done amazing work thus far.
We reached our first huge milestone:
The opening of the first invasive breast cancer trials for HER 2+ which are totally funded by Pennies in Action® through the generosity of thousands of people of all ages and every walk of life. Our dear friend and vaccine recipient Karen Berner was the first donor to give us a 5 figure donation, and this year was the first donor to give us a 6 figure donation. You have taken us to the next level....
The more I learned the more I realized if sports would go about the way cancer research usually seems to be done, it would be recreational sports, definitely not making the Olympic podium. There is no podium finish in cancer, only the winner lives!!!! Sports came about to get warriors ready for battle (only the survivor lived). That is why we use the Olympic approach. In order to win this we must be more relentless than the cancer cells and WE ARE.
Personally I want to thank all the people who volunteered unconditionally with a passionate heart who went above and beyond to achieve each milestone in the past 7 years. I am sure the list will be long, but I want to sincerely thank all of them from the bottom of my heart. My love goes out to them!!!!
2014 is the year of implementing and putting the infrastructure in place for expanding the number of patients that can be treated and starting the phase 3 trial. Also to continue funding the research into other cancers with HER 3 research.
Expanding the movement and crusade
Purple the Globe® for a life without cancer on a Global level. We will be going back to Brussels to the World Innovation and Research Congress where Dr. Czerniecki and Dr. Koski will be presenting again. And three patients (2 vaccine recipients, and 1(me) waiting for her chance) will be part of a discussion on Patients as Stakeholders. We will make sure to expand on our mission to raise funds and awareness to remove the threat of cancer one vaccine at a time.
With the collaboration of Dream Violet CEO Robby Chacko and his team, we now have something unmatched anywhere else in the World. Information technology (tailor made to the need), a cutting edge research lab, and staff and a doctor that is bringing it to bedside with unmatched success.
The huge key ingredient is amazing and unmatched synergy with no egos taking this off track. If you want to make a difference, please join us and support us with your time and funding. We only ask to leave your ego at home. This is bigger than all of us. When it is all said and done you will be able to say, “We made a difference!! We left a Life without Cancer, and a better world.”
Together we are making cancer history!!!!
Please visit my blog - Uschi's Thoughts
AWARDS & NEWS
Pennies in Action was presented with the prestigious Partner in Hope Award from the Abramson Cancer Center at their 21st Life After Breast Cancer Conference in October.
The Penn Medicine Focus on Cancer blog has just put up an article on Uschi Keszler and Pennies in Action. It talks about Uschi, Pennies in Action, what brought her to support Dr. Czerniecki's cancer vaccine research, and about how PIA raises funds.
Dr. Czerniecki has released the 2nd Annual State of the Research Report - and it is exciting from the first sentence to the last. A tremendous amount of progress was made on the cancer vaccine in 2012. The current phase of the clinical trial should finish this year, to be followed by Phase III, which takes the trial nationwide, into hundreds of hospitals around the country.
In January, Uschi received an endorsement letter from Dr. Jeffrey Drebin of Penn Medicine highlighting Dr. Czerniecki and his research, and the importance of Pennies in Action in helping to fund the research.
Dr. Czerniecki and one of the Breast Cancer Vaccine trial's participants were interviewed on Action News today on their HealthCheck segment by Health Reporter Ali Gorman. It's a great interview with details and info on the vaccine. Check out a video of the Report, or on the 6abc website. Pennies in Action is mentioned in the Report on the 6abc website.
Pennies in Action has been named an Official Charity Partner for the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon, being run in November. We are very excited to be joining other local and national charities partnered with the Marathon. Details are being firmed up for runners, sponsors, and volunteers.
Penn Medicine issued a News Release yesterday on the success of the first phase of Dr. Czerniecki's Breast Cancer Vaccine trial. Here's the Headline: Four-Week Vaccination Regimen Knocks Out Early Breast Cancer Tumors, Penn Researchers Report - Majority of Patients Treated Develop Strong, Lasting Immune Responses. Results from the first phase of the trial have been published in two professional journals: online in Cancer, and in the January issue of the Journal of Immunotherapy. Click HERE to read the News Release - it's truly amazing.
There's a lot happening with the new year: Dr. Czerniecki has written a State of the Research Report summarizing what has been going on with research in the last year, and the directions it is taking this year - it is full of information, including where they are in the trial now. Fundraisers already started and planned for the beginning of the year, to benefit PIA, include a six-member team running a 126.2 Ultra Marathon, and the Voorhees Red, White, and Blue Teams second Fundraiser will take place over the month of February. And our Annual Showers of Hope Event planning is in full swing. Once again, you will be able to order tickets for the event right here on the website.
The CBS Evening News Report with Medical Correspondant Dr. Jon LaPook interviewing trial participant Karen Gentile and Dr. Czerniecki was wonderful. Watch the video on cbsnews.com. With a national audience, the trial has just received tremendous exposure.
CBS Evening News is airing an interview with Dr. Czerniecki tomorrow night (Wednesday Nov. 16 at 6:30 pm ET/PT, 5:30 pm CT/MT) - be sure to watch it, and spread the word to your friends and family. At 8:30 pm ET, please join us on our Breast Cancer Telebridge Call. The research is getting national exposure!
In August, Uschi was honored with a Golden Heart Award at the Golden Heart Group's' 16th Annual Banquet, "Honoring Unsung Heroes". Each year the Golden Heart Group honors special members of the community who are examples of courage and going above and beyond the call of duty to help others. Uschi was honored for her work with PIA. Fellow Honorees included Congressman Robert A. Brady and Philadelphia Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell.
Uschi was awarded the 2011 Spirit of Excellence Award by the Friends of the Delaware County Women's Commission for her work on Pennies in Action. They give 2 awards each year - the Delaware County Employer of the Year Award, to women-run businesses, and the Spirit of Excellence Award, to a woman who inspires others - which is certainly Uschi!
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