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Friday, March 30, 2018 12:01 am

Women unite in the battle against cancer

Women’s Power Lunch Against Cancer supports research at the Simmons Cancer Institute

Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming, PhD, assistant professor in Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology at SIU Medicine, works on isolation of DNA for microbial sequencing. Specifically, the goal of her research is earlier detection and treatment of ovarian cancer using a patient’s microbial profile.
Photo courtesy of SIU School of medicine


The annual Women’s Power Lunch Against Cancer inspires and educates, while raising funds for cancer research at Simmons Cancer Institute (SCI) at SIU Medicine. The 9th annual Women’s Power Lunch is Friday, April 27, at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel in downtown Springfield. It is an excellent opportunity for women to join together in the fight against cancer. Nearly 500 people, predominantly women, laugh, cry and cheer together as they hear remarkable stories about cancer survivors and those battling cancer and learn about promising cancer research.

Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU Medicine treats cancer patients, conducts cancer research, provides patients access to clinical trials and supports patients and their families with other programs. Their team approach is designed to develop a treatment plan for the best possible outcome. Researchers have received more than $14 million in external grant funding for research on cancer biology with the goal of better detection, treatment and prevention options in the future.

The Women’s Power Lunch raises funds for cutting-edge cancer research in central Illinois. Funds generated through Simmons Cancer Institute’s local fundraising efforts support the Team Science Grant Program. Researchers at Simmons Cancer Institute apply, through a peer review process, for cancer research projects. These local grants often yield results that enable researchers to apply for larger, highly competitive grants from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.

The lunch features an inspiring and entertaining keynote speaker who is a cancer survivor or has a direct connection to cancer. Women who have attended past events remark that speakers are incredible and moving. This year’s speaker is Donna Hartley. Her message is about conquering change and triumphing over trials. She learned to be persistent during life-threatening times. She survived a DC-10 plane crash in 1978, is cancer-free after being diagnosed with Stage III melanoma in 2001 and triumphed over open heart surgery to replace a faulty aortic valve in 2006.

Women’s Power Lunch funds all types of cancer research

Research at Simmons Cancer Institute is focused on the novel findings in cancer biology leading to better detection, treatment and prevention options in the future.

Research by Dr. Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming is just one example of how the Women’s Power Lunch supports critical cancer research. Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming is an assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology. She received a Team Science Grant focused on the relationship that microbes living on and in our bodies has with the immune system. The goal of her research is earlier detection and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming says that ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths, affecting 1 out of 75 women. Currently there is no effective screening method to definitively detect ovarian cancer early in its development. There is a low five-year survival rate of women diagnosed at advanced states. Earlier detection is a critical issue. Her Team Science Grant is investigating how the development of ovarian cancer affects the immune system and also microbes, such as bacteria, viruses and fungus that reside in the body.

A healthy immune system is important to control the development and spread of cancer cells. Cancer alters the immune system, but it is difficult to detect alterations by current tests. Microbes are a natural part of our bodies and interact in a mutualistic relationship for a healthy immune system. Cancer cells alter the microbial compositsion, and microbial changes are easy to measure. Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming’s research is investigating whether there is a microbial profile in all patients who have ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer and if detection of alterations in the microbial profile can be an effective means of diagnosing the cancer earlier in its development. Since there are hundreds of types of species that make up the human microbiome, this is a complex issue. Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming says Simmons Cancer Institute is one of just three labs carrying out this type of research.


At Simmons Cancer Institute, there is a strong collaboration between cancer researchers and clinical doctors managing cancer treatment. Forty-two ovarian cancer patients have agreed to participate in an ongoing study, and samples are collected for research as patients are undergoing diagnosis and treatment. Specifically, the Team Science Grant is funding the analysis of biological samples collected from patients with ovarian cancer in the Springfield area.

Dr. Braundmeier-Fleming pursued a career in research because she loves learning and problem solving. She says, “The long-term goal of ALL cancer research is to find a cure for every type of cancer. Our short-term goal is to find a diagnostic tool for early detection and to guide therapeutic interventions that are specific for each patient to give them the most positive outcome. I want to communicate with people in the Springfield area the innovative research projects that are being pursued by SCI researchers and how they can be involved.”  

Karen Ackerman Witter is retired from the State of Illinois. Through freelance writing and volunteering, her goal is to connect people, organizations and ideas to achieve greater results. She is a volunteer event co-chair for the Women’s Power Lunch Against Cancer.


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