Connecticut has one of the highest cancer rates in the country but also the greatest concentration of doctors. That combination makes the state both a cause for concern and an ideal laboratory for cancer research, according to Shelton resident and Assistant Professor of Chemistry & Microbial Pathogenesis at Yale Jason Crawford.
It is in Connecticut that scientists like Crawford are on the edge of innovative research to eradicate the deadly disease.
The 38-year-old scientist, who lives in Shelton with his wife and two young children, heads the Crawford Lab at Yale. Supported by groups like the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the William Raveis Charitable Fund, Crawford oversees some 15 associates at work at any one time on some 35 research projects.
At Yale, he and his team are working to understand the molecular mechanisms of cancer formations and how to prevent them from forming. At the same time, they have identified a novel type of enzyme that inactivates cancer-causing microbes to prevent them from damaging DNA. The DNA-damaging pathway is associated with nearly 70 percent of colorectal cancer patients. They are also looking into how to put the enzyme into yogurt microbes to eliminate the risk of colorectal cancer.
After receiving a doctorate in chemical biology from Johns Hopkins University, Crawford spent four and-a-half years at Harvard Medical School searching for new molecules that kill cancer cells. “If you zoom all the way into the molecular level,” he says, “you can start to understand diseases.”
Cancer is the second leading cause of death, after heart disease, in the United States, and colorectal cancer the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths. According to the American Cancer Society, one in four Americans will eventually die from the disease; in any given year, more than half a million people do.
But with scientists like Crawford—and with support from forward-thinking companies and foundations in the area—cures may not be far off.
“Support from William Raveis and Damon Runyon have been very helpful because it’s allowed us to take risks and pursue out-of- the-box ideas,” Crawford says—ideas usually not supported by conservative medical foundations. “And it’s taking these kinds of risks, I believe, that will lead to the big discoveries in the long run.”
On Oct. 1, Crawford will be one of six scientists expected to turn out for the 3 rd annual William Raveis Ride + Walk cancer research fundraiser at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. To date, the Raveis event has raised more than $1 million, with 100 percent of monies raised going to Damon Runyon for grants that support innovative research. Nearly 1,000 bicyclists and walkers are expected to turn out at Calf Pasture Beach this year to participate in the day of events that include 12-mile, 25-mile and 50-mile rides, a 5K walk and children’s 100-yard dash, food, music and guest speakers.
William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage and Insurance is headquartered in Shelton. Company Chairman and CEO Bill Raveis is well acquainted with the life-changing trauma of cancer and the critical need for research. In 2014, his wife, Candace, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and given five months to live. Now two years out from cutting-edge treatment at the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven, she is cancer-free.
To register for this year’s William Raveis Ride and Walk, and for more information on the research it helps support, please go to www.RaveisRideWalk.com