INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana University physician scientist will soon settle onto his bicycle’s saddle, setting out on a 300-mile journey to raise awareness and funds for a rare form of blood cancer.
For the 10th consecutive year, Rafat Abonour, M.D., professor of medicine and of pathology and laboratory medicine at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, will embark on Miles for Myeloma — this year dubbed a “Decade of Dedication” tour — on Friday, Oct. 3.
Dr. Abonour and his fellow riders — many of whom have personal connections to myeloma — will set off at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 3, from Fesler Circle, on the north side of Michigan Street and the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Eye Institute, on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. Parking is available in the Vermont Street garage.
To date, the annual ride has raised more than $2.5 million for multiple myeloma research at the IU Simon Cancer Center.
Ten years ago, multiple myeloma was a vastly different disease than it is now. There’s still no cure, but treatment and management of this rare and little-known form of blood cancer have seen significant advances, resulting in improvement to patients’ life expectancy and quality of life.
Part of that improvement can be attributed to Dr. Abonour and the volunteers who created the annual event. A decade ago, when a group of his patients wanted to organize a 5K to benefit his research, Dr. Abonour, who enjoys running and cycling, decided to do both to various parts of Indiana. He rationalized that his patients travel from different corners of the state to see him, so he could also travel to them.
He’s been going ever since. In all, his feet and bike tires have touched more than 1,700 miles of Hoosier asphalt. This year, he’ll be cycling for three days, traveling more than 300 miles from Indianapolis to Spencer, Ind., to Terre Haute. He’ll return to Indianapolis for a finish-line celebration at 4:15 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, 650 N. Meridian St. More than 500 patients and family members are expected to greet him and the other cyclists who will be riding with him.
Dr. Abonour and his fellow myeloma experts at the IU Simon Cancer Center are exploring how the marrow microenvironment and myeloma patients’ abnormal immune systems contribute to tumor growth, bone destruction and chemotherapy resistance.
The cause or causes of multiple myeloma are unknown, but people who contract the disorder are typically over age 65. Other risk factors include being male, African American and related to someone already affected by myeloma. The disease is akin to leukemia and lymphoma in that it originates in a person’s bone marrow and then can spread throughout the body, weakening bones and potentially damaging vital organs and compromising the immune system. Dr. Abonour said myeloma’s complexity and tendency to attack multiple body sites make it particularly tricky.
“What’s perplexing is that it’s not really one disease,” he said. “What we are trying to figure out is how to have a definition of the different subtypes. Some are easier to treat and sometimes can be cured. And our goal is to identify those patients and treat them differently.
“When I started working on multiple myeloma, we had one or two drugs with which to treat it; now we have six and should have a couple more by the end of the year. So I’m not as pessimistic as I used to be. This is a cancer that is rare, but we can find a cure.”
Miles for Myeloma history:
2014 Miles for Myeloma: Decade of Dedication: 300 miles by bike from Indianapolis to Spencer, Ind., to Terre Haute, to Indianapolis
2013 Miles for Myeloma: 225 miles by bike from Niles, Mich., to Indianapolis
2012 Miles for Myeloma: 185 miles by bike from Cincinnati to Indianapolis
2011 Miles for Myeloma: Tours for Tomorrows: 200 miles by bike from Louisville to Indianapolis
2010 Miles for Myeloma: Ride for Research: 234 miles by bike from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis
2009 Miles for Myeloma: Trek for Treatment: 207 miles by bike from Evansville to Indianapolis
2008 Miles for Myeloma: The Bloomington Boomerang Part II: 60-mile run from Indianapolis to Bloomington and 60-mile bike ride from Bloomington to Indianapolis
2007 Miles for Myeloma: The Bloomington Boomerang Part I: 60-mile run from Indianapolis to Bloomington and 60-mile bike ride from Bloomington to Indianapolis
2006 Miles for Myeloma: The South Bend Tour: 40-mile run from Carmel to Kokomo and a 100-mile bike ride from Kokomo to South Bend
2005 Miles for Myeloma: The Fort Wayne Tour: 60-mile bike ride from Carmel to Marion and a 60-mile run from Marion to Fort Wayne