The setting is conversely high tech and low altitude.
You have to go down two flights of stairs from ground level to get to the sub-basement of the 89-year-old dentistry/pharmacy centre building on the main University of Alberta campus. There, Dr. Shairaz Baksh and his team of seven undergraduate and graduate-level research students make good use of the funding provided to them by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and courtesy of the St. Valentine’s Day Hair Massacure.
The fundraising event, now gearing up for its ninth year, encourages people to dye their hair to a shocking pink before chopping it all off as a show of solidarity for people who go through chemotherapy treatment for cancer. The whole charity is run by Tammy MacDonald of Morinville.
In its first eight years Massacure has brought in more than $4.5 million, the proceeds of which are split evenly between the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Alberta.
On Thursday, MacDonald and several of her team members were given a special tour of Baksh’s lab for an unprecedented look behind the scenes into cancer research. For her, it was more important to see how charity funding gets put to action rather than learning about genetics and oncology.
Amid the noisy hum of a -80 C specimen sample freezer, Baksh led the group around to demonstrate his work and gave an overview of his progress.
MacDonald was impressed.
“He actually showed us different things. He took a cancer cell and put it up [on the microscope]. It was a little bit over our heads.”
Part of his research looks at how cancer might be tricked into killing itself and how chronic conditions involving tissue inflammation can predispose someone to develop cancer later on. He said that there might never be an end to cancer research because it has been ongoing for decades around the world and scientists keep learning new things.
“We still don’t know enough about how cancer cells multiply.”
This prospect doesn’t faze MacDonald because at least she was able to see people in action working to find a cure.
“I’m gonna be glad for them when they move into the new building,” she said, referring to Baksh’s anticipated move. He is only one of the researchers who receive funding indirectly from the Hair Massacure. He obtained this lab space in 2007 on a temporary basis but will be packing up for the new Katz Group-Rexall Centre for Pharmacy and Health Research when his new lab space opens sometime in 2011.
MacDonald added she’s happy that her charity can provide funding when some of her researchers are seeing other revenue sources drop away.
“The government is cutting their funding. They would have had no projects this year and now they have more than ever which is awesome. Within a province that’s so inundated with childhood cancer, you’d think their research would be beefed up here. That was why I insisted that we do more of that kind of research.”
The goal for the upcoming Hair Massacure is to raise at least $1 million. To learn more about the charity organization and the event, please visit www.hairmassacure.com.