Dorothy Foundation donates to Biodesign Institute project to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier

November 21, 2017

Last year, pancreatic cancer overtook breast cancer as the third leading cause of cancer deaths. With a five-year survival rate of just 8 percent, it is one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

But with early detection, that survival rate rises to 60 percent, even with conventional treatments. That’s why the Dorothy Foundation donated $25,000 to a project led by Stephen Johnston, director of the Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine and professor at the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. Dorothy Foundation check presentation The Dorothy Foundation donated $25,000 to the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University for a project to diagnose Stage 1 pancreatic cancer. Download Full Image

Johnston is hoping to transform the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. His research aims to detect Stage 1 pancreatic cancer with an immunosignature technology he developed at the Biodesign Institute at ASU.

Johnston said the donation will help him gather blood samples of Stage 1 pancreatic cancer, which are difficult to collect because pancreatic cancer does not create symptoms at early stages. He needs those samples for a pilot study to prove the immunosignature technology works, a key step to developing a reliable and inexpensive diagnostic test.

“We try to push the edge, and we feel this is our responsibility for the university,” Johnston said. “We should be taking the really high-risk chances out there, which often starts just like this. It starts with a little seed fund that’s willing to take a bet, and then we see that catalyze enough interest that we can get the bigger funding to come in, and that’s been our modus operandi for years and years.”

Longtime FOX 10 Phoenix sports anchor Jude LaCava and his sister Sandra LaCava started the Dorothy Foundation to honor their mother, who died of breast cancer at age 49, and accelerate cancer research. Sandra LaCava serves as executive director of the foundation.

“We know the devastation of loss and the tremendous torment that many patients go through, especially when it’s late-stage cancer,” said Jude LaCava. “We’re here to get in the trenches and support the researchers like Dr. Johnston here at ASU Biodesign.”

The Dorothy Foundation presented a check during a ceremony at the Biodesign Institute on Friday morning. Friends of Jude and Sandy LaCava who had lost loved ones to pancreatic cancer joined them at the event, and Johnston gave them a tour of his laboratory and an update on his work to develop better diagnostic tools for cancer.

“I can’t express enough my appreciation for Jude, Sandy and the Dorothy Foundation for giving us continued support for what we’re trying to do here,” Johnston said.

So far, the Dorothy Foundation has donated more than $100,000 to support cancer research at the Biodesign Institute. Eric Spicer, senior director of development at the ASU Foundation, thanked the Dorothy Foundation and the LaCavas personally for their support, which contributes to Campaign ASU 2020.

“Cancer is such an awful thing, and the fact that you all have taken the initiative to establish a foundation in honor of your mom and recognize her legacy in this way is an inspiration to others to also join the fight, so we thank you for that,” Spicer said.

“You’ve chosen Biodesign. You’ve been an advocate for us for a number of years now, and that means the world to us. It’s more than just the dollar figure. That provides us inspiration to keep going, and we’re just incredibly grateful for the support.”

Ben N. Petersen

Assistant Science Writer, The Biodesign Institute

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Tips for surviving family table talk this Thanksgiving

November 21, 2017

ASU experts share how students and families alike can handle potential 'millennial' complaints and probing questions

Thanksgiving brings us closer together, but our conversations across generations in a family can sometimes drive us farther apart.

“We’re forced to spend these long hours with people, some of whom we may not like very much, and that is stressful,” said Vincent Waldron, Arizona State University intergenerational communications professor.

It’s rare for all generations, from the silent generation to boomers to Gen Z, to find themselves in one room. According to Waldron, our main hindrance is that we don’t “ask interesting, meaningful questions and we’re OK with just superficial small talk.”

So we’ve compiled some intergenerational complaints and probing questions you might hear at the table and given an ASU expert the chance to give you some talking points to keep the peace and understand your family more.

“How’s your love life going?”

black and white photo of people sharing a milkshake

It’s not nosiness per se but a biologically driven question, according to evolutionary biologist Michael Angilletta.

“There’s this thing called parent-offspring conflict where offspring just want parents to keep taking care of them as much as possible and parents want to be able to take care of more than just one child and then take care of themselves,” he said. 

“The conflict can tie to love life, too, because you know if someone is in a stable relationship they’re on their way to forming a stable partnership, which ultimately leads to grandkids — and I’m going tell you that’s one of the greatest biological drivers of our behavior, right?”

“Back in my day, we didn’t have these high-tech gizmos …”

Electric Building at World Fair

There can be a generational gap in technology, but it’s important to remember that technology isn’t inherently a smartphone, but even a wheel or lever, according to historian Christopher Jones

“The grandparents of boomers grew up in a world with little plumbing, no electricity and almost never traveled faster than the pace of walking, but their grandkids flew in planes, drove in cars, lived in electrified homes with good plumbing,” Jones said.

“It’s a recurrent pattern that people assume they are living through radical technological innovation of the types not seen before. 

“These changes — experienced on a daily basis — made a far greater difference in terms of personal comfort, convenience and health than anything Silicon Valley has generated in the last generation and were quite disruptive in their own day to those living through these technological transformations.”

But according to counseling psychologist Ashley Randall, there is something known as technoference, where even the mere presence of a cellphone, as long as it’s within view, “decreases your perception of the quality of the social interaction.”

“Put your cellphone away and allow room for the cranberry sauce instead,” Randall advised.

“Younger kids, you’re just not working hard enough.” 

man at desk

Much like boomers can’t retire like their parents’ generation, many younger Gen Xers and millennials don’t have the same relationship with work their parents did, according to Pamela Stewart, a senior lecturer in history and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute lecturer.

“Part of the reason a younger generation is looking for that satisfaction and not only a paycheck is that to some degree they observed people that they thought had stable jobs lose them,” she said. 

“If you could potentially end up losing a job then maybe you should be able to get some job satisfaction along the way.”

“I don’t understand your texts. Why can’t you write in proper English?”

drawing of two people from the Middle Ages

It took until the Renaissance for dictionaries with prescribed spellings and usage to appear, said linguistics professor Elly Van Gelderen. And some historical texts, such as the 15th-century Paston family letters, are as hard to read as some of your children’s texts. 

In that context, van Gelderen suggests that a little textual ambiguity shouldn’t be painted as the demise of grammar and spelling.

“Texting doesn’t seem to have a standard, and that’s why it reminds me of the Middle Ages,” she said. “In between 1100 and 1500 you have no standard so people just write the way they think they speak. In the moment, texting has given people the freedom to not be so prescriptive, and by prescriptive I mean following these silly rules.”

 “You kids and your selfies.”

Virgin Mary and baby

It’s not just the latest generation that’s self-obsessed. Art historian Corine Schleif points out that middle class and wealthy patrons painted themselves into the foreground of pictures of salvation history, including the birth of Christ or the Crucifixion.

“It’s a way to immortalize yourself, as portraits are, and in a sense with a selfie, too,” she said. “There was that kind of empathy that was developed through this kind of imagery, and I think that happens with selfies today.”

So if a friend takes a picture of herself in an important place, Schleif said she can relate to that in a different way than if she were just to open a magazine or look on the internet for a picture. 

“You know you get that from your Uncle Johnny.”

dna strand

They might be hard to deal with and Thanksgiving might be all the time you’d like to spend with family, but for computational biologist Melissa Wilson Sayres — who works on interpreting DNA — family is as much based in our real-life relationships as our genetic ones.

“Your genetics don’t define you; it’s the people around you and the people you interact with,” she said. “What if you’re adopted, right? It’s still the person you grew up with and probably share your microbiome with. Your complaints about your parents and your nosy cousin and all of this stuff, it’s just so much more important than genetics — and I say that as someone who devotes my life to genetics.”

Top photo: Holiday postcard from 1914. Images courtesy of The New York Public Library Digital Collections, wikimedia and

Deanna Dent

Photographer , ASU Now