Starting tomorrow at 10 a.m. thousands of University students will gather to participate in Relay For Life and spend the day walking around the track at Palmer Field to raise money for the American Cancer Society. And while the ACS will distribute the money to researchers across the country, University scientists will put some of it to use in labs not too far from Palmer Field.

Relay for Life — a 24-hour fundraiser sponsored by the ACS has raised more than $1.5 billion for cancer research since it began in 1985.

At the University, Relay for Life raised $276,000 last year. As of Friday morning at 2:00 a.m., University teams had raised $213,234.43, but Relay for Life organizers believe they will reach their goal of $300,000 by the end of this year’s event.

Mary O’Riordan, assistant professor in the department of Microbiology & Immunology, is one of the many researchers across the country who receives funding from the ACS to study cures for cancer.

O’Riordan studies proteins and molecules affected by bodily infections. She said proteins altered by infections in normal cells are changed in similar ways by cancer cells.

O’Riordan suggested that researchers might be able to use the infectious disease model system to try to understand how the proteins work.

“If we knew more about how they worked inside the cell, then we might have a better understanding of how they might work differently in cancer,” she said.

O’Riordan has been able to pursue her research because of fundraisers like Relay for Life. The ACS gave O’Riordan a $600,000 grant to study proteins during the next four years.

During this first year, O’Riordan has used the money to study a water channel called aquaporin-1, whose functions are affected by lung, breast and colon cancer.

O’Riordan said the goal of her research is to understand more about aquaporin-1 and its function inside the cell. She added that so far, her findings have been successful.

“We have a really nice easy test now that we can use to screen for drugs that might alter the function of aquaporin-1,” she said.

O’Riordan said the drugs may lead to a potential therapy for cancer and that she hopes to make further developments within the next three years.

LSA junior Christine Schepeler and LSA senior Kaylin Connors, co-chairs of Relay for Life, said the purpose of the relay is to not only remember and honor loved ones lost to cancer but to fight back by raising funds for researchers like O’Riordan.

“We have one day — 24 hours — we’re out on the field,” Connors said, “and we want to stretch that out into 365 days a year and let everyone know you can participate, and you can prevent cancer 365 days a year.”

Connors said in addition to raising much needed money for researchers, Relay for Life also creates a support network.

“With every year that I do Relay you see more and more people that struggled with cancer or who have been affected by cancer in one way or another,” Connors said. “That makes you just want to find a cure more and more.”

As of Friday morning at 2 a.m., 2,956 participants from 193 teams have registered for the event, surpassing the 161 teams that participated last year.

Education sophomore Ari Beers, who is a co-captain of a team with 11 of her friends, said she decided to participate in Relay for Life because her mom had a breast cancer scare at the beginning of the year.

While her mother’s results came back negative, Beers said the experience motivated her to reach out to others going through similar situations.

“She didn’t even have it so I can’t imagine what other people who are actually battling the actual disease are going through,” she said.

Schepeler said she has participated in Relay for Life the past nine years because “it is a cause that is near and dear” to her heart, and she couldn’t see her life without it.

“Every year you kind of reach this epiphany where you’re standing on the field, you’re looking out at thousands and thousands of people, and you just realize that in any other day you wouldn’t be connected to them by any means,” she said, “but you can look at someone and just smile and nod and say ‘We’re here for the same reason, we’re fighting back,’ and for that moment you’re connected.”

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