At the University of Colorado Cancer Center we do not care if you live next door to us in Aurora or two thousand miles away in Alaska: Our goal is to continue to fight cancer no matter where you call home. CU Cancer researcher Nick D’Amato, a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Jennifer Richer’s lab, had an opportunity to put a face to breast cancer research when he traveled to Alaska earlier this year. He wanted to show that, despite the geographical distance, people living in with the disease were not alone.
Nick, a New Jersey native, has always enjoyed science and became interested in cancer during his undergraduate studies at Princeton. He later joined a breast cancer lab at Duke, where he earned his doctorate. It was there that he decided to pursue breast cancer research.
“In the lab I was able to see how many people are affected by the disease,” he explains. “After my experience there I knew I wanted to stay with breast cancer.”
Nick moved to Colorado after graduation to do his postdoctoral work at the CU Cancer Center.
“I came to CU because I realized that many of the papers I had been reading were from this campus,” he says. “I soon came to realize that there are very strong labs that are doing good work.”
Nick never imagined that his research at the CU Cancer Center would take him to the “last frontier” state. His journey to Alaska began in July of 2013 when he was talking about his research at an American Cancer Society event.
“Someone in the audience happened to be the head of community engagement for the Great West Division, which includes Alaska,” Nick explains. “A few months later I received a phone call inviting me to go to Alaska for the ‘Making Strides Against Cancer’ kick-off event.”
Nick and his wife traveled to Anchorage, Alaska to speak in front of numerous ACS members. Nearly two hundred people attended the kick-off event.
“I was the keynote speaker for the event, something that I was not aware of until I got there,” laughs Nick.
During his speech Nick explained the research that is being done in Dr. Richer’s lab as well as the importance of fundraising for the future of cancer research.
“My goal was to show people what the money being raised is going towards when it comes to breast cancer,” he explains. “I wanted to humanize and put a face to research.”
For example, working in the Richer lab, Nick is working with a drug that blocks androgen receptors in breast cancers that may depend on these receptors to live and grow.
“The drug seems to help shrink tumors, especially in triple negative breast cancer, which is the most dangerous prognosis.”
After Anchorage, Nick stopped by a clinic on the Kenai Peninsula to explain his work at CU to cancer doctors who don’t often have much in-person connection with researchers at the NCI-designated cancer centers.
“It was an experience; we were able to travel by boat, by train, and even by a small plane to get to all the different locations,” he says. “We were blessed with beautiful weather throughout the week and even got to go whale watching on a day we were not working.”
Despite the wildlife and amazing views, Nick kept his eyes on the prize: showing the people he met what their donations mean to cancer research.
“When you are a researcher you are always talking to the people in the lab with you,” he says. “I really enjoyed going out and talking to people about what we do—they really responded to that.”
When people donate to the CU Cancer Center they are not just putting money in an envelope and never seeing it again. They are helping to create real treatments that will benefit real people.