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How VeloSano funding helps launch groundbreaking new cancer research

Researcher Dr. Ruth Keri and her team are working to identify a gene that causes Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, a project launched with help from VeloSano funding

CLEVELAND — EDITOR'S NOTE: The video in the player below is from a previous story.

Researcher Dr. Ruth Keri has spent her career focused on women's health, and for the past twenty years, her work has centered around breast cancer - a disease which will affect one in eight women in her lifetime.

"I hope that someday my research will help people that have breast cancer live longer lives and healthier lives," she said.

Dr. Keri and her team at Cleveland Clinic have been working on identifying the cause of one of the most deadly forms of breast cancer – Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.

"This is the most aggressive form of breast cancer," she explained.

Triple-Negative makes up 15% of all breast cancers -- disproportionately affecting African Americans and young women. People like Geraldine Leach, of Shaker Heights.

"I was diagnosed and treated for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer approximately 24 years ago. And then it has returned in 2020 last year," Leach said in a recent conversation with 3News.

Thankfully, Leach is doing well on a new immunotherapy treatment, but the statistics are tough. About half of patients diagnosed with this form of breast cancer don’t survive more than three years.

That's why Dr. Keri's team is focused on identifying what makes this particular cancer so aggressive. They believe it could come down to DNA. 

"Our project focuses on a gene," Dr. Keri explained. "This gene, we think, controls the whole process that drives triple negative breast cancer and what we're hoping to do is figure out how it works and then if we know how it works we can develop new therapies."

It's difficult, painstaking work. It's also expensive. But Dr. Keri's project was able to be launched with funding from VeloSano - which focuses on funding projects in very early stages.

Since 2014, VeloSano has generated more than $24 million, which has been used to fund more than 170 cancer research projects with promise, like this one.

"90% of [research] ideas land on the cutting room floor," Dr. Keri said. "That's very, very challenging and there are some really outstanding ideas that don't make it past that bar. So the VeloSano [support] helps us to become more competitive."

"It's really wonderful to see that people care and are concerned about others and that they willing to do what they can to support them and to help them," Leach said of learning of projects like Dr. Keri's.  

It’s groundbreaking work, and it's being conducted right here in Northeast Ohio. 

"Breast cancer affects everyone worldwide, it affects everyone but it also affects the people within our community," Dr. Keri said.

For her part, Leach is grateful for the ongoing work in finding a cure.

"I feel also very excited about the research, that's underway. The Cleveland Clinic is a wonderful place and we're very fortunate to have it here in our backyard," she said. "That's going to be better treatment for us and help us to live longer. We're very thankful and blessed that these things are going on."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video in the player below is from a previous story about VeloSano.