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NHGRI Researcher Teams with Lance Armstrong In Ride for Cancer Awareness
By Geoff Spencer
On the Front Page...
Each day when he enters the lab at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Peter Scacheri is in a race to understand the molecular and genetic mechanisms of cancer. In October, he'll shift gears in his race against cancer by jumping on his bike for an epic journey across America.
Scacheri, a postdoctoral fellow in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research, will join a select group of 25 other cyclists on the national team for the Tour of Hope, a cross-country bike trip led by five-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. A survivor of testicular cancer, Armstrong is taking on the challenge to raise awareness about cancer and increase public participation in cancer research.
Scacheri, 31, was selected for the Tour of Hope team from more than 1,000 applicants because of his research exploring the genetic basis of cancer, his record as an avid cyclist and his personal connection with cancer. "I feel energized and the team is amazing," said Scacheri. "It means a lot for Lance to be on the tour. Lance is an inspiration for cancer patients and I appreciate what he's accomplished as a cyclist."
The team, continuously riding in a relay day and night, will be divided into four groups of six to seven cyclists. Each cyclist will bike 3 hours at a time, twice a day, averaging about 120 miles per day. In between cycling stints, team members will rest and follow the tour in a motor caravan. Each member of the team will ride about 800 miles over the course of the week at an approximate average speed of 20 miles per hour depending on weather and terrain. In comparison, competitors in the 2003 Tour de France rode 2,130 miles in 3 weeks.
Scacheri works in NHGRI's Genome Technology Branch in the lab of institute director Dr. Francis Collins, who led the Human Genome Project's successful effort to sequence the 3 billion base pairs that make up human DNA. Scacheri's research is aimed at understanding the genetic and cellular mechanisms that contribute to cancer using the most current scientific techniques produced by the Human Genome Project. "We're confident that our approaches, based on genomic technologies, will revolutionize the treatment of cancer within our lifetime," said Scacheri.
In addition to their cycling feats, team members will make stops to talk about cancer research and to visit with cancer patients. "It's important for cancer patients struggling with their illness to know that scientists like me struggle right along with them to find a solution," said Scacheri. "Even though we may not take care of patients directly, we feel the clock ticking."
Scacheri began cycling 9 years ago when he was working as a lab technician in Pittsburgh. "Lab work can be frustrating and so I started riding to relieve stress and get away from it all," he recalled.
What started off as a casual hobby has turned into a non-stop chain of triathlons, charity bike events and mountain bike races. As part of a constant training regimen to stay in shape, Scacheri swims with the Masters Swim Team at the Naval Medical Center twice a week, putting in at least 4,000 yards per workout; runs 5 to 7 miles three times a week; and rides his bicycle more than 200 miles in an average week.
Even before the Tour of Hope, the NHGRI researcher was using his cycling talents to draw attention to cancer care. In 1998, Scacheri lost a good friend and groomsman in his wedding to cancer. "Doug passed away at the age of 25, within months of being diagnosed with a highly aggressive form of cancer," said Scacheri. The primary site of the cancer was never identified. Each year since then, Scacheri has organized an 85-mile bike ride from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg, Pa., where a charity golf tournament is held to honor his friend's memory and raise funds for charities such as the Ronald McDonald House and Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Now, the scientist is expanding those efforts to reach a nationwide audience. "For someone like myself, an avid cyclist, a cancer researcher, and someone who lost a special friend to cancer, the Tour of Hope is the opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "It's an opportunity for a basic researcher to tell the public what we do."
Scacheri said that he anticipates that riding on the tour will be like riding in a weeklong series of races. Mentally, he will have to prepare and motivate himself as if each leg of the trip was a different race. "I'll definitely be thinking about Doug," said Scacheri, "and I'll be thinking of cancer survivors and what they go through. I get my inspiration from those survivors and that is really my motivating factor."
Nine team members are cancer survivors and the team as a whole has experienced 15 types of cancer. Team members range in age from 29 to 57 and represent 18 states, including: Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Vermont.
During the tour, the national team, which is sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, hopes to get 1 million Americans to sign a "Cancer Promise," which is a written pledge to learn about cancer and the importance of cancer research in finding a cure for the devastating disease. In addition, an estimated 1,000 cyclists are expected to register to ride with the cycling legend in the tour's sendoff ride in Los Angeles and its finale in Washington. Information on how to sign up to ride with Armstrong or how to obtain the "Cancer Promise" is available at the Tour of Hope website, www.tourofhope.org.
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