Sierra Madre Wine and Jazz Walk Committee Members See Benefits of Their Work During City of Hope Tour

By Bill Coburn

Click photo to enlarge. The Committee photo I took was meant to include the full fountain and the City of Hope name in the background.  Below you'll see a closer-up photo of the Committee, with me included, that City of Hope's Steve Sommers took.

There's also a photo of Dr. Richard Jove, Director of the Beckman Research Institute addressing the committee, and a shot of construction of the new Beckman Institute Building.


Members of the Sierra Madre Wine and Jazz Walk (SWJW) Committee received a mini-tour of the City of Hope facility on Monday, June 23rd, and had an opportunity to be de-briefed by two of the doctors that oversee where funds donated by the SMWJW are spent.  The Committee has donated $60,000 dollars to City of Hope in the two years it has been in operation.


After being greeted by Gift Planning Officer Steve Sommers and Sierra Madre resident Bridget Marshall of Visitor Services, the group hopped on a tram and was shown a part of City of Hope’s 100+ acre facility.  After the brief tour, the group stepped into a lecture room to view a presentation by Dr. Richard Jove, who wears several hats, judging by the various titles in his curriculum vitae: Director, Beckman Research Institute; Deputy Director, Comprehensive Cancer Center; Co-leader, Developmental Cancer Therapeutics Program; and Professor, Division of Molecular Medicine.  His work has improved understanding of the role of STAT3 signaling in cell growth and survival in a wide range of human tumor cells. He has authored more than 150 scientific papers in leading research journals.


Dr. Jove spoke about the process under which doctors operate.  “You can’t just invent something and put it into a patient, you have to have it up to a certain standard by the FDA, and when we did that a number of years ago people thought we were insane, the FDA said oh you can’t do that…make something like that…and we thought we could and we did, and now we’re the gold standard, or the platinum standard…now Harvard comes to us and says how did you do that…it allows us to take an idea on a napkin, examine it in a petrie dish, and take it to a mouse, and then we say to the FDA…we think we can do something with this program of patients…we’re going to do something spectacular…”


He discussed that one of the goals of researchers is to reduce the toxicity of the current therapies so that when “therapies” attack the cancer cells, they attack only those cells, reducing the side effects that the patient experiences during their treatment. He then discussed the cumulative effects of mutagenic events on cells during a patient’s lifetime, that we are constantly bombarded by things that effect the structure of our cells, noting that while there are cumulative effects, “the alternative is not to live.”  He discussed the STAT 3 gene, and how genes within cells can tell the cells whether or not to “turn on” the STAT 3 cells, and how molecular medicine research is making advances in the activation (or non-activation) of STAT 3 genes and the effect that can have in whether a cell becomes a tumor cell or not.  After his presentation, he answered questions from the committee.


Following Dr. Jove’s presentation, the Committee members were taken to the Visitor’s Center, where a presentation was given by Dr. Michael Jensen, who happens to be a resident of Sierra Madre.  Dr. Jensen’s CV lists even more titles than Dr. Jove’s: Co-leader, Cancer Immunotherapeutics Program; Associate Chair, Division of Cancer Immunotherapeutics & Tumor Immunology; Director, Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Program; Director, Zagoria Laboratory for Pediatric Cancer Research; Associate Professor, Pediatrics; and Physician, Pediatric Neuro-oncology. Dr. Jensen discussed a brain tumor (Glioma)  research program underway in which T-cells are removed from a cancer patient, “cleaned up” and “supercharged” by adding recombinant DNA, then re-injected into the patient. 


I have to admit that I was somewhat over my head in my understanding of the above programs.  While I won’t pretend to really understand what recombinant DNA is (Wikipedia definition: Recombinant DNA is a form of artificial DNA that is engineered through the combination or insertion of one or more DNA strands, thereby combining DNA sequences that would not normally occur together.   In terms of genetic modification, recombinant DNA is produced through the addition of relevant DNA into an existing organismal genome {whole hereditary information encoded in the DNA}, such as the plasmid of bacteria, to code for or alter different traits for a specific purpose, such as immunity,) I will say this: the video of the supercharged T-cells attacking and removing the cancer cells was dramatic, and should give hope to anyone suffering from Glioma. 


During a brief Q and A, Dr. Jensen noted that the treatment still has to go to clinical trial via the FDA, and that the initial non-FDA approved tests of the process were conducted on people that had very few options, meaning that if it works on those in the worst of shape, it probably will work for those earlier in the progression of the disease.  Dr. Jensen noted that we are on the edge of numerous breakthroughs in medical and health technology, and that we should expect in the next few years to see monumental changes in healthcare, due largely to the technological breakthroughs of the last few years.


Then the conversation turned to discussion of the recent Santa Anita fire in the hills behind Sierra Madre.  While the good doctor’s discussion of his program was informative, enlightening and full of promise and hope, the discussion of the fire was one that everyone in the room understood and could contribute to, based on their own experiences.  And it also localized the work that the City of Hope does.  While the work done at City of Hope benefits patients worldwide, it was especially beneficial, I think, for the Committee members to learn not only how groundbreaking the work being done,  funded partially by the dollars donated by the community of Sierra Madre and through their own efforts, is, but to learn that it’s being done by a guy who shared their fear as the fire came over the ridge in April, or who is sitting next to them at the Sierra Madre Little League game, or who is someone they might see shopping in a local store, without any awareness that he’s the guy making a difference for cancer patients worldwide, thanks to their efforts and those of their community.


The committee learned a lot about the work that their contribution was helping to fund, and was very appreciative of the time that the doctors had taken out of their busy research schedules to help them begin to understand why their contribution, and yours, through your support of the Wine and Jazz Walk, is so important.


This year’s Sierra Madre Wine and Jazz Walk is scheduled for October 25th, and will again feature wines donated by San Antonio Winery and the Riboli Family.  At least 20 local businesses will participate, with wine tasting, cuisine from local restaurants and catering companies, raffles and a silent auction all planned.  For more information about the event, visit