The 2019 Herd of Hope Team Science Research Award

The 2019 Herd of Hope Team Science Research Award

How might the stress of a cancer diagnosis affect the health of our patients, their treatment outcomes and the well-being of caregivers? How can we help patients manage stress or counter its effects? That’s what Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Elizabeth Bouchard, PhD, Betsy Repasky, PhD, and the rest of the team that received the 2019 Herd of Hope Team Science Award want to find out.


Herd of Hope brings the Western New York community together in pursuit of the next big cancer breakthrough. Individuals and companies can purchase a blue buffalo statue to display as a sign of their commitment to Roswell Park and to helping save lives through the kind of cutting-edge cancer research possible only at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center.

In late 2019, Roswell Park researchers competed for the $500,000 prize funding a project with the potential to impact the way we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer. Following a competitive review by a committee of scientific leaders, the project headed by Dr. Ambrosone was chosen for this community-driven grant.

“An Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding How Stress Affects the Cancer-Immune Equilibrium and Patient Outcomes”

This study will comprise four projects investigating different aspects of the connection between stress and cancer. The researchers’ goal is a grant from the National Cancer Institute to establish a Center of Excellence in Stress Research at Roswell Park. This goal would not be possible without this initial funding from donors. The projects include:

  1. Investigating interactions between chronic stress, the way tumors develop, and the role of the immune system in survival outcomes.
  2. An analysis of how racial background may be influencing the immune response in the tumor microenvironment.
  3. Exploring the roles of various stressors on cancer patients and their caregivers as well as how both adapt to stress.
  4. Determining how stress is influencing the efficacy of immunotherapies and whether interventions to reduce stress improve efficacy.

In one of the studies, the team is conducting a pilot study to assess the feasibility of mindfulness meditation for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. This will form the foundation for a larger study to understand if mindfulness meditation can improve stress-related outcomes — including on the immune response — among cancer patients and their caregivers.

“Our team is grateful to members of the WNY community for contributing to this award, which will allow us to build the capacity to conduct research studying how stressors can affect cancer growth and progression,” says Dr. Ambrosone. “Bringing together scientists from different disciplines, including immunology, cell stress, sociology, epidemiology and physical therapy, our team science approach will hopefully broaden our understanding of how stress can affect patient outcomes and, importantly, how we may intervene to reduce stress responses in patients.

“We believe that this ‘it takes a herd’ approach will allow us to develop psychological, behavioral, immunological and pharmacological strategies to reduce adrenergic stress and assess how these strategies affect patient outcomes and survivorship.”

The leaders of the 2019 Herd of Hope team science project are:

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Roswell Park Alliance Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Prevention; Chair, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Elizabeth Repasky, PhD, the Dr. William Huebsch Professorship in Immunology, Department of Immunology

Elizabeth Bouchard, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Scott Abrams, PhD, Department of Immunology

Marina Antoch, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Kristopher Attwood, PhD, Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Co-Director, Biostatistics and Statistical Genomics Shared Resource

Rikki Cannioto, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Fangyi Gu, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Chi-Chen Hong, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Megan Pailler, PhD, Department of Psychosocial Oncology

Andrew Ray, PT, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Song Yao, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Town of North Collins First Community to Sponsor Herd of Hope

Town of North Collins First Community to Sponsor Herd of Hope

Crystal Cocca: North Collins school district treasurer and town bookkeeper; mother of two; happily married wife; Herd of Hope pioneer.

Crystal would probably never call herself a pioneer, but she is. She’s the first person to rally an entire community around the Herd of Hope blue buffalo in support of cutting-edge cancer research at Roswell Park. But while being a pioneer is great, her goal is to be just the first of many.

The blue buffalo has deeply personal meaning, too. In February of 2018, a routine mammogram led to a diagnosis of breast cancer. Following surgery, six rounds of chemo, 20 radiation treatments and a year of hormone infusions, she’s in remission. Crystal was so grateful for the support from her community in North Collins, New York, that she wanted to do something to show her appreciation. She didn’t want to just throw a party; she wanted something lasting and all-inclusive. What she came up with provided not only that but also the opportunity to support other cancer patients through research at Roswell Park.

“I thought, what visual representation can I have in the community that is inclusive of all people and cancers? So I chose the blue buffalo as being the symbol of everyone — those battling, those surviving, those who have been taken from us. That was the best way I could give back that included everyone and supported research at the same time.”

Crystal drafted a letter with a picture of a Herd of Hope blue buffalo, told her story and invited businesses to help her bring the blue buffalo to their community. “My line was: Our community is small, but our hearts are big. Help me bring a blue buffalo home.” She got a great response from the business community of North Collins, then reached out to her church family and close friends.

Before long, the small town in southern Erie County had its own Herd of Hope blue buffalo. It was unveiled in August and now stands proudly in Marion J Fricano Memorial Town Park for residents and visitors to see. It’s covered in cancer ribbons of many different colors to show the impact the disease has on everyone and the importance of groundbreaking research at Roswell Park.

But Crystal isn’t stopping there.

“My next mission is to challenge the neighboring towns and villages to turn our blue buffalo into as many blue buffaloes as we possibly can. The goal is $25,000. I’d like to find five more communities that will follow North Collins’ lead. We even have a mini blue buffalo to give as incentive to the first town, village or municipality that joins us in the Herd.

“Our community supports Roswell, supports cancer research and supports each other.”

Herd of Hope buffaloes are a symbol of hope, generosity and innovation in Western New York — all of which are characteristics of the award winner. Join our herd today by purchasing your own mini buffalo to support cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center by visiting

Kevin Hays Selected for 2019 Herd of Hope Hero Award

Kevin Hays Selected for 2019 Herd of Hope Hero Award

What does it take to be a hero?

In the case of the Herd of Hope Hero Award, a lot of compassion and commitment. The Hero Award seeks to recognize and honor an individual who inspires hope — hope for loved ones, hope for the community, hope for a cure and hope for the future.

The recipient of the 2019 Hero Award is father, husband,
colon cancer survivor and cancer advocate Kevin Hays!

In 2014, Kevin Hays and his wife, Hilary, were enjoying life as new parents to their daughter, Abby. Feeling an ignited sense of responsibility for his health, Kevin decided it was time to do the adult thing and take care of his annual appointments – the doctor, the dentist and a colonoscopy because of a history of polyps. Just routine, he thought. No big deal.

Then he got a call that changed his life. A call with a word he was never anticipating – cancer. He was only 28 years old.

Kevin was shocked but took on the challenge headfirst. After harsh, intense treatment and surgery, and exciting news of a second baby on the way, he was hopeful for the future. He’s had two more recurrences. This time it was stage 4.

But he’s taken the fight into his own hands and brought his journey to the community, getting down to business trying to end cancer.

Now a father of three, Kevin uses his experience with cancer to advocate, educate and motivate others. His biggest goals is to encourage more people in the real estate and construction industry to get screened. Because, he points out, chemo is far, far worse than that one uncomfortable test.

He uses his nonprofit Buffalo Colon Corps and the Blue Hope Hard Hat Initiative as a platform to “break down resistance to screening and encourage young people to pay attention to their bodies and take symptoms seriously,” Kevin says in a blog post he wrote for Roswell Park’s Cancer Talk.

Participants wear branded Blue Hope Hard Hats on job sites around Buffalo during March, which is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and give toolbox talks about colorectal health and screening at jobsite meetings.

Kevin is also involved with the Undy RunWalk and the Colorectal Cancer Alliance as an engagement committee member for the Buffalo RunWalk and its Blue Bash kickoff party; has been active with Roswell Park’s Young Adults Program; and is an American Cancer Society WNY board member.

When nominations for the Herd of Hope Hero Award opened, Kevin’s aunt, Mary Pasternak, was thrilled to have the opportunity to spotlight Kevin. “He is a HERO to so many! He has taken this awful thing and made it his mission to help others. To know him is to love him,” she says. “It’s hard to quantify the impact he has had on the community, but I know his story has affected so many people. Because of him, more people are aware of the warning signs, more people are getting screened, and more people are donating to and raising critical funds for cancer research.”

Kevin epitomizes the definition of a hero, and that’s
why Kevin is our Herd of Hope Hero Award recipient.

Herd of Hope buffaloes are a symbol of hope, generosity and innovation in Western New York — all of which are characteristics of the award winner. Join our herd today by purchasing your own mini buffalo to support cancer research at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center by visiting

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Raising Hope

Raising Hope

How Costanzo’s Bakery Inspires Staff and Customers With Its Herd of Hope Buffalo

Costanzo’s Herd of Hope BuffaloThe store’s vestibule and large picture window just called for the big blue buffalo. It was the perfect stage on which to display a symbol of hope.

Costanzo’s Bakery is just one of the many members of the Herd of Hope. As a sponsor, they received a dazzlingly blue buffalo to display at their store. Once staff got it situated, CEO Angelo Costanzo III thought it called for a selfie. And once he had snapped that first picture with the buffalo, one thing seemed obvious: Lots of other people working in or visiting the Cheektowaga store would want to do the same.

They set out a white board for staff and customers to write their tributes on — honoring a loved one, a colleague, themselves, someone they’ve lost — and cancer site ribbon magnets to stick to the white board. Then they let the selfies commence.

It has really engaged Costanzo’s employees, and customers love it, too. Not only did the selfie station encourage employees and customers to take a moment to honor or remember someone affected by cancer, but it also served as a reminder that we are all part of a larger group that is committed to finding a cure for cancer.

Costanzo’s Employees took pictures with the Herd of Hope Buffalo“Employees have really rallied around it. That’s important to us,” says Lori Ferraraccio, Vice President, Talent and Operations Development. “We feel that wherever you have an opportunity, whether individually or as a corporate citizen, you should give back. That’s what’s most important to Costanzo’s. We’re not in this for the publicity. We’re in it because we truly believe that Roswell is like Costanzo’s: a Western New York tradition. And we’re lucky in both regards to have those in our backyards.”

CEO Costanzo says: “One small way we can give back to the community is what really matters to Costanzo’s.”

Has your company sponsored a blue buffalo yet? How could it use one to unite staff and inspire customers? Learn more about sponsoring a buffalo.

Costanzo’s Employees took pictures with the Herd of Hope Buffalo

Herd of Hope Awards a Half-Million Dollars to Winning “Team Science” Research Project

Herd of Hope Awards a Half-Million Dollars to Winning "Team Science" Research Project

How do we find the next big cancer breakthrough? First, by working together.

In pursuit of that next great discovery, this year Roswell Park enlisted the help of the local business community by launching the Herd of Hope. Each company that joined the Herd through a $5,000 sponsorship received a shiny blue buffalo to display at its location, showing the community its commitment to the Roswell Park mission.

More than 100 blue buffalos now can be spotted grazing around WNY, and today more than $500,000 has been raised for our first-of-its-kind “team science” award at Roswell Park.

Under this team science, more than 40 researchers and scientists came together to form multidisciplinary teams that developed and submitted projects they hoped would be chosen for the half-million-dollar grant. Each team’s project addresses prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and includes the launch of at least one clinical study to test a novel treatment strategy for cancer patients.

Following review by a committee of scientific leaders, three projects were identified as finalists.

The team selected for the $500,000 award is led by David Goodrich, PhD, Professor of Oncology, and includes Pamela Hershberger, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology; Erik Knudsen, PhD, PhD, Chair, Molecular and Cellular Biology; and Steven Pruitt, Professor of Oncology. 

Their project, “Improving Cancer Therapy by Countering Mechanisms of Resistance,” seeks to discover therapies that will prevent cancer relapse. While many cancer therapies work well at first, cancers often become resistant to the same treatments upon recurrence. This study will focus on understanding how tumors resist treatment and how certain defects in patient tumors can be exploited to overcome this resistance.

“It’s such an honor to be the team chosen to receive this grant because all of the finalists’ projects hold great promise,” says Dr. Goodrich. “My colleagues and I are eager to get started on our investigation and are incredibly grateful to every business that purchased a blue buffalo. They showed tremendous support for the promise of a new discovery and, most importantly, for the patients whose lives we hope to save.”

Teams began by submitting initial letters of intent. The three finalists were then invited to submit a full application. The winning team was announced by Roswell Park President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, at a sponsor reception on December 12. The campaign was chaired by longtime Roswell Park supporter Bill Loecher.

Kathleen Theal, a Roswell Park patient who has been battling ovarian cancer since 2004, spoke at the event and thanked the sponsors and researchers for giving hope to all who face cancer. “Researchers and donors are the unsung heroes in a cancer patient’s journey, because we don’t often have an opportunity to see you and talk to you. It is the donors that provide the funds that make it possible for researchers to develop new treatments and clinical trials that hopefully will eradicate not only specific cancers, but all cancers in the very near future.”

We know a cure is out there. The collaboration created by the Herd of Hope will bring us a few blue-footed steps closer.

Cancer knows how to put up a fight. The Herd of Hope is pushing back.

Cancer knows how to put up a fight. The Herd of Hope is pushing back

A caring business community + a talented group of cancer experts = a recipe for making serious headway in the fight against cancer: the Herd of Hope.

97 blue buffaloes later, nearly a half-million dollars have been raised to support a first-of-its-kind Team Science research project at Roswell Park. Several multidisciplinary teams of Roswell Park faculty came together to develop and submit proposals for a grant that will help them pursue innovative ways to approach cancer and develop new treatments; here are the three finalists. December 12, we’ll reveal the final decision!

There’s Still Time to Join!

You can still play a part in the Herd of Hope before our finalist is announced December 12!

Join us now to help fuel this powerful research that could lives from cancer.

Herd of Hope on track to fund a half-million dollar research award

Herd of Hope on track to fund a half-million dollar research award

More than 80 businesses and individuals from across Western New York have sponsored a blue buffalo since the 2018 Herd of Hope kicked off in July, bringing the campaign over 75 percent of its fundraising goal.

This overwhelming outpouring of support puts Herd Hope in position to award a half-million dollar research award to a promising research idea at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

More than 40 members from Roswell Park’s clinical and scientific teams – medical oncologists, geneticists, biophysicists, radiation oncologists, molecular biologists and others – have come together to form multidisciplinary teams. These teams, have pooled their knowledge and expertise to submit proposals for studying new and innovative scientific approaches for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

These teams, or Scientific Task Forces, have submitted their collective ideas for a competitive peer review by senior investigators at Roswell Park. The project that is deemed most promising will receive this half-million dollar research award funded by your support. All of the team projects have an ultimate goal of launching a clinical study that would bring a new therapy developed at Roswell Park to patients’ bedsides.

The Task Force with the winning research idea will be announced in December.

Sponsorships are still available!

Your company still has time to be a part of this historic effort and support this new research! Join the Herd by sponsoring a blue buffalo today.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Donor Support is Fueling a Historic Clinical Trial at Roswell Park

Donor Support is Fueling a Historic Clinical Trial at Roswell Park

“This could be a game-changer,” said Kelvin Lee, MD, Chair, Department of Immunology at Roswell Park. “It could impact hundreds of thousands of patients in the United States, and potentially millions of individuals worldwide.”

Dr. Lee is talking about CIMAvax-EGF, a treatment for lung cancer developed by the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Cuba. In 2016, Roswell Park announced a partnership with the CIM to bring this groundbreaking lung cancer treatment to the United States for the first time.

The immunotherapy works by targeting a growth factor in the blood that is necessary for cancer to survive. By depleting this growth factor, the cancer starves and its progress slows, prolonging patients’ lives.

“The bottom line is that we know from previous studies that it works for many patients, and the ease of administration — an injection once per month — combined with its inexpensive cost makes it a very promising treatment,” said Dr. Lee. “There is nothing like it, certainly not in the lung cancer field.”

Scientists at Roswell Park are conducting the early phase clinical trials to test the treatment in combination with standard therapy. These studies are required before CIMAvax can be made widely available in the United States.

And the pace of these initial trials is being fueled by generous donor support, with donations to Roswell Park covering the majority of the cost.

“Research really all comes down to funding. The more funding you have, the faster you can do the trials,” said Dr. Lee. “The less funding, the longer it takes.”

The other exciting thing about CIMAvax is that it could potentially be used in the treatment of many other types of cancer — such as colon, head and neck, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers.

Research dollars raised through the Herd of Hope will be used to fuel the most promising research projects at Roswell Park, and your company can play a part by sponsoring a Herd of Hope buffalo today.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Fighting Brain Cancer With Community Support

Fighting Brain Cancer With Community Support

John Brennan will tell you that he’s alive now because of a cancer vaccine called SurVaxM.

One late night in June 2016, John had a seizure. It came out of nowhere for the healthy, active retiree. The EMTs who responded to the emergency call thought he’d had a stroke. But an aggressive brain cancer called glioblastoma had actually been the trigger.

After surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, John came to Roswell Park. His family had learned about a clinical trial testing a vaccine in combination with chemotherapy in patients with newly diagnosed glioblastoma. “Thank God I met all the criteria,” John says.

He’s been receiving SurVaxM along with chemo through the phase II trial since October 2016. He travels to Buffalo from Syracuse regularly and stays with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren. He says he’s fatigued from chemo but having no side effects from the SurVaxM — and is getting stronger every month.

SurVaxM at Roswell Park

The SurVaxM vaccine was developed right here in Buffalo by Roswell Park faculty members Robert Fenstermaker, MD, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neuro-Oncology Program, and Michael Ciesielski, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Neurosurgery.

SurVaxM targets survivin, a cell-survival protein that’s present in the vast majority of cancers, including glioblastoma. The vaccine is engineered to treat survivin-expressing cancer cells as foreigners, inciting a specific immune response. It has dual mechanisms of action to stimulate a patient’s T-cell immunity and inhibit the survivin pathway to control tumor growth and prevent or delay tumor recurrence. And it does this with fewer side effects than chemotherapy or radiation.

The SurVaxM stage I clinical trial run by Drs. Fenstermaker and Ciesielski here at Roswell Park had promising outcomes — one of the original patients has survived six years — and other hospitals were eager to participate in the stage II trial for newly diagnosed patients. It is being conducted at the Cleveland Clinic, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in addition to Roswell Park, with favorable results once again.

The team presented its initial findings from the phase II trial at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in June.

“These interim phase II trial results in newly diagnosed glioblastoma patients are very promising and offer the potential for longer-term survival in this group where there is great unmet medical need,” says Dr. Fenstermaker. “We believe this drug has the potential to change the glioblastoma treatment paradigm.”

Donations from generous partners and friends have been critical in the vaccine’s development and success, from early seed funding to support for both the phase I and II clinical trials. And the results have great potential well beyond glioblastoma: Evidence so far suggests that SurVaxM could also be effective in melanoma, ovarian and prostate tumors and other survivin-expressing cancers.

The Difference a Clinical Trial Can Make

“If I weren’t on the trial, there’s probably a good chance I would be on the other side of the grass,” John Brennan says. “But I think that it’s really helped me, and hopefully, this SurVaxM will continue to work for many, many years.”

But it’s not just about him. “I entered the trial because I saw it as a way of extending or saving my life, number one. Number two, to help other people. So, I did it for myself and for other people. I appreciate the donors who donate the money for the research, and the brilliant minds at Roswell that can invent these immuno-vaccines.”

Is your company ready to join the Herd of Hope and help more patients like John? Find out more here.

Donations Fund Genetic Testing That Saves Lives

Donations Fund Genetic Testing That Saves Lives

Imagine that your child is sick but no one can tell you what’s wrong.

That’s what happened to Kyle’s parents when he took a strange fall and started having trouble walking. He kept waking up in great pain in the middle of the night, and nothing helped. After multiple hospital visits, an MRI finally found a tumor on his spine.

Surgery and pathology narrowed it down to a rare, unclassified spindle cell tumor — but couldn’t tell anything beyond that. Doctors didn’t know how to treat him.

“I was distraught,” says his mom, Christeana. “I was so upset and so scared, wondering, ‘Am I going to lose my son?’”
Finally, Kyle was sent to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and tested with OmniSeq Comprehensive®. The test discovered a gene mutation that conventional tests had missed. He had an inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor, a type of sarcoma.

What is OmniSeq Comprehensive®?

Developed by Roswell Park researchers in the Center for Personalized Medicine and the cancer center’s precision-medicine spinoff company OmniSeq®, OmniSeq Comprehensive is a diagnostic test that sequences genes of a patient’s tumor biopsy in a search for mutations. Once doctors know about a genetic mutation, they can tailor treatments specifically to that tumor.

Donations to Roswell Park have supported much of OmniSeq Comprehensive’s development. At first, these tests were not covered by insurance. But because donor support helped cover the cost of more than 600 tests for patients who stood to benefit from it, Roswell Park and OmniSeq were able to collect the data needed for insurance carriers to justify broader coverage for Roswell Park patients.

Because OmniSeq found that mutation, Kyle finally received the right drug. Now, the tumor has shrunk remarkably.

Christeana is deeply grateful that donors helped make this diagnosis happen. “I really appreciate the donations because they helped my son. I wish I could say thank you to them.”

Kyle calls his tumor his “monster” and after repeat imaging, asks how his monster is doing.

“When I found out the pill was working and it still is — it’s amazing, it’s a miracle drug to help my son cure this monster,” his mom says.

© 2018 Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center