Breast cancer pioneer

Prouty cyclist supports own work on cancer research

Sunday News Correspondent
July 06. 2013 9:21PM
Dartmouth College scientist and professor Jack Hoopes is seen with his daughter, Mollie, at The Prouty cycling event in 2009. This year, the two plan to bike the 200 miles that make up The Prouty Ultimate. (COURTESY)

HANOVER -- When Jack Hoopes does his pioneering research into battling breast cancer, his work is partially paid for with money from the fundraiser known as The Prouty.

Begun in 1982 as a 100-mile bike ride by a group of nurses at Dartmouth-Hitchcock's Norris Cotton Cancer Center in honor of longtime patient Audrey Prouty, the fundraiser now includes walking, rowing and golf activities, as well as cycling, with thousands of people generating an average of around $2.7 million a year.

This year's Prouty takes place this Friday and Saturday, with its signature event - The Prouty Ultimate, a 100-mile bike ride from Manchester to Hanover on Friday and another century ride on Saturday - spanning those two days.

A Cotton Center scientist and professor at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine and Thayer School of Engineering for 23 years, Hoopes is a longtime benificiary of The Prouty.

And he's one of its most dedicated participants.

Hoopes has been riding in Prouty cycling events for most of his years at Dartmouth, usually accompanied by a family member or two.

In the early years, daughter Mollie was a passenger, riding in a baby carrier while her parents - Jack and his wife, Vicki Scheidt, a Hanover veterinarian - did the peddling. These days, Mollie, now 19, peddles along with Dad in the Ultimate, an endurance test she first passed five years ago.

Of the more than 5,000 people who will participate in this year's Prouty, only about 100 will ride in the Ultimate. Once again, Jack and Mollie Hoopes will be among that select group.

A study is born

When the National Science Foundation formally recognized nanotechnology as a new field of research into cancer treatment, the National Health Institute made a handful of large grants available for such research. Excited about the concept, Jack Hoopes and a team of about 25 biologists, physicians, engineers and graduate students launched a study. But because the team lacked experience in nanotechnology, Hoopes said, the National Health Institute grants went elsewhere.

"But we did like the concept and thought it had a future in cancer research," he said.

So, in those early years, the research was bolstered by a few small grants, including one from the Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

That support from the center's charitable arm gave their work credibility, Hoopes said. And in 2010, the National Cancer Institute named Norris Cotton a "Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence," a designation that came with a $13 million grant.

That windfall - and the potentially lifesaving work that will come from it - would not have been possible without the early support of the Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Hoopes said.

And that support was made possible by The Prouty.

Passion for research

Hoopes studied veterinary medicine at Oklahoma State University. He enjoyed the research aspect of veterinary work so much, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. in radiology at the University of Colorado. It was there that he first worked on cancer research, and that prompted him to pursue another Ph.D., in radiation oncology at Duke University.

He's been in cancer research at Dartmouth since completing that degree.

Hoopes' work focuses on injecting mice with human breast cancer cells then treating them through nanotechnology. He and his team create antibodies containing nanoparticles of iron oxide and inject those into the mice to attack the cancer cells. Next, each mouse is placed in a non-toxic magnetic field, which is then activated. The magnetic field activates the iron oxide particles, which heat and destroy the cancer cells, Hoopes explained.

The process has been successful with the mice, he said, as well as with several local dogs with naturally occurring cancers that have participated in the study. Regarding the treatment's application in humans, Hoopes said it probably would be done in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation, but might be used alone, as it has been with the mice and dogs.

The theory, he said, is that the procedure could target specific cancer cells, even when they have spread to other parts of the body or metastasized.

And that, he added, is very exciting.

Kick start for the ride

Before setting out on the Ultimate from St. Anselm College in Goffstown on Friday morning, Hoopes will discuss his work as the keynote speaker during the Ultimate Dinner for The Prouty at the college Thursday night.

Guests will learn about nanotechnology and cancer research and about how The Prouty funds not only that research but also transportation and other support services for Norris Cotton Cancer Center patients.

Soon after, it will be time to hit the road, scientist and daughter peddling off to Hanover to help pay for his life's work.

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