from the event benefit the Nathan S. Arenson
for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
The Jefferson is considered to be the Noble Prize of community service.
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By Anita Srikameswaran, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
They aren't scientists, and they don't have trust funds, but the Arenson family is playing a key role in furthering pancreatic cancer research.
They called it "Hoops for a Cure."
"They named it and they did the logo," Gillespie said. "As a family, we backed them on it."
In six weeks of hustle, they got the school district's permission, organized the games and gave tickets away, boosting attendance to more than 750 people. Gillespie and her siblings then asked for donations.
The first Hoops in April 1996 raised $35,000.
"We went into this blind," Gillespie noted. "I still am learning every day what you can do, what you can't do."
After collecting the sum, the Arenson family had to figure out what to do with it. So they interviewed several doctors and researchers, Finn among them.
"They were not educated in biomedical sciences to know where the money might be needed," the researcher recalled. "So they asked me where I thought the money would be best used."
Finn told them that it wasn't hard for scientists to get funding for lab and animal studies, but it was much more challenging to find adequate support for clinical translation, meaning taking basic science findings into human trials.
Although research protocols might be approved by federal regulators and university overseers, it could take two or more years to get start-up money from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society or other funding agencies.
But if funds were immediately available, a trial could get started promptly. Then when federal funds are finally granted, they would be used to continue the study.
So "we can start putting money into the fund that will only be used for running clinical trials and clinical trials monitoring," Finn told the family.
Her suggestion, and her plain speaking, struck a responsive chord with the Arensons.
"Everybody could understand what she was talking about," Gillespie said. "She's so compassionate and so realistic. She doesn't paint a picture that's not feasible."
The Arensons decided to help Finn achieve her goals and to continue their efforts to raise money for cancer research. The next Hoops for a Cure will be held on April 30. Three basketball games are played, including a match-up between Pittsburgh Steelers football players and alumni of Chartiers Valley.
"We've been kicking their butts," said proud alumnus Gillespie. This year, her nephew will be the last of many Arensons to graduate from the high school.
The annual fund-raising event will likely continue, though, because many parents and children in the community are determined to carry on the tradition, Gillespie said.
Finn said she often looks at her picture of Nathan Arenson.
"He seems to have a very sweet, kind face," she said. "You think if you had known this person, you probably would have liked him very much."
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