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CHUCKSTRONG Tailgate Gala pushes research funding to $1.1 million for IU Simon Cancer Center


INDIANAPOLIS — More than 450 people sporting tailgate attire gathered Friday night at the Indianapolis Colts complex to help push the CHUCKSTRONG campaign to more than $1 million raised for research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

Hosted by the Indianapolis Colts and head coach Chuck Pagano, the CHUCKSTRONG Tailgate Gala raised $660,000 through corporate sponsorships, live and silent auctions and a challenge issued by the coach in which he and his wife, Tina, contributed a matching gift of $50,000, bringing the total raised to $1.1 million for the CHUCKSTRONG campaign.

“After this city embraced me and my family the way that it did, we now see an opportunity to give back and do the right thing and support a great cause by raising money for cancer research and awareness,” Coach Pagano said. “Every time a physician anywhere sits down with a cancer patient to go over a cancer treatment plan, there’s years of research backing that up, guiding that caregivers’ hands. We want to get behind that so more people have the experience I had and can get back to living and doing what they love.”

AML Inc. General Contractors, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Efroymson Family Fund, Lilly Oncology, Papa John’s Pizza and Stanley Security Solutions were “touchdown sponsors” of the tailgate gala. 

“The Colts have a long relationship with the IU Simon Cancer Center, and we are thrilled to be their partners in funding cancer research,” Pete Ward, chief operating officer of the Indianapolis Colts and chairman of the cancer center’s development board, said. “We’re incredibly grateful to the more than 50 Indiana companies and foundations that generously supported this inaugural event.”            

Previously, through the sales of CHUCKSTRONG T-shirts and wrist bands and donations collected for two Colts cheerleaders who shaved their heads, $454,600 was raised as fans were quick to support the fund-raising campaign initiated by the Indianapolis Colts last year after Pagano was diagnosed with cancer. In all, 18,603 T-shirts and 22,038 wrist bands were sold.                              

“Thousands of people rallied behind the coach to contribute to cancer research,” Patrick Loehrer Sr., M.D., director of the IU Simon Cancer Center, H.H. Gregg Professor of Oncology and associate dean for cancer research at the IU School of Medicine, said. “That’s a testament to Hoosiers just as much as it is to the coach and the Colts organization. They want to make a difference. We, at Indiana University, are humbled to be on the receiving end of this generosity, and recognize our responsibility to deliver on these gifts.”            

Amid a celebratory atmosphere with Colts cheerleaders and more than 30 players, guests at the tailgate gala participated in everything from a 40-yard dash, punt returns and three-cone drills on the Colts practice field before turning their focus to raising money for cancer research.

Funds from the tailgate gala will be used to support cancer research projects and accelerate the translation of laboratory discoveries to the bedside of patients in Indiana and beyond. Research is at the heart of progress against cancer, supporting advancements to find better ways to prevent, detect and treat the disease.

“There is not one cause for cancer, nor one treatment. Many different molecular and genetic events drive the development of cancer,” Dr. Loehrer said. “Researchers from the IU Simon Cancer Center are working on identifying and understanding these genetic pathways, which will open new doors towards the delivery of more effective therapies with greater precision and less toxicity.”

It was research that led to advancements for those with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), the disease Pagano was diagnosed with last fall. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that research allowed people with APL to hear the words “remission” or “cure.”

Larry Cripe, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the IU School of Medicine, a researcher at the cancer center, and Pagano’s physician, has seen firsthand the advancements in medicine that have been made because of research.

“The number of drugs we had available when I started medical training was miniscule,” Dr. Cripe said. “We had very few options for people and so frequently we were at a point where we had to help people understand that there literally were no drugs available to treat their cancer. Without research, we would not have moved one bit.”

Research conducted at the IU Simon Cancer is known around the world. Among the accomplishments:    

  • Researchers and physicians have transformed the cure rate of testicular cancer from 10 percent to nearly 95 percent today.
  • Researchers have gained international recognition for the treatment of breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, hematologic and thoracic cancers.
  • Researchers and physicians are recognized nationally for the bone marrow and stem cell transplantation program.
  • The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center is the world’s only healthy breast tissue bank. By studying normal tissue, scientists accelerate research for the causes and prevention of breast cancer.
  • Nearly 50 basic scientists and clinicians work to improve outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients in the Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

Overall, the cancer center’s research is recognized by the National Cancer Institute. As an NCI-designated cancer center, Indiana University’s cancer center is one of only 67 in the nation. NCI-designated cancer centers are recognized for meeting rigorous criteria for world-class, state-of-the-art programs in multidisciplinary cancer research. NCI-designated cancer centers put significant resources into developing research programs, faculty, and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.