Pelotonia funding made Dr. Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy's research possible, but it also has laid the foundation to publicize findings that could decrease the risk of breast cancer in women, a cause close to her heart.

The 52-year-old Powell resident is a breast-cancer survivor and a researcher at the Ohio State University's College of Medicine.

She said she received a $100,000 Pelotonia idea grant in 2016 to study the biological link between breastfeeding and a decreased risk for triple-negative breast cancer, an especially aggressive type that African-American women are at a high risk of developing.

Idea grants are drawn from one of four basic funding "buckets" Pelotonia uses to distribute research funds raised from its annual central Ohio charity bicycle tour, according to Miguel Perez, a Pelotonia vice president who is in charge of mission and branding.

They give applicants an opportunity to pursue an idea that might not have the necessary data or statistics to support a grant application elsewhere, he said.

A second bucket funds a fellowship program for younger researchers, Perez said. Levels include undergraduate, medical student, graduate, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral candidates.

A third bucket for senior-scientist grants invests in researchers and laboratories, he said.

The fourth bucket funds the creation of statewide initiatives, Perez said. Current initiatives target colorectal, lung and endometrial cancers.

Pelotonia, founded in 2008, has raised more than $135 million since its first ride in 2009. This year, more than 7,000 riders and 200 pelotons – a term used for Pelotonia's fundraising teams that generally is defined as the primary group of cyclists in a race – are expected to participate in Pelotonia activities from Aug. 4 to 6.

All money raised goes toward some form of research at Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

All grant recipients must either work at Ohio State or attend school there, Perez said.

Those who receive Pelotonia funding are expected to participate in the bike tour and fundraising process.

Ramaswamy, for example, said she will complete Pelotonia's 25-mile ride from Columbus to Pickerington.

Ramaswamy said the Pelotonia grant helped her build the foundation for her breast-cancer research.

She said her initial plans in research were to specialize in bone-marrow transplants. But an oncology rotation during her residency that regularly put her in contact with breast-cancer patients changed her mind.

"I just really fell in love with the patient population," she said.

Substantial data already show that breastfeeding for at least four to six months decreases a woman's risk of developing triple-negative breast cancer, Ramaswamy said. The triple-negative designation means growth of the cancer is not linked to hormones estrogen and progesterone or a protein known as HER2, according to breastcancer.org.

Data also show that the premenopausal African-American women have a higher risk of developing this type of cancer, but they also are less likely than Caucasian women to breastfeed.

Ramaswamy said her research explores the biological reasons breastfeeding decreases the risk for triple-negative breast cancer.

She also is exploring whether the reason African-American women have a higher mortality rate for cancer is because they have a higher risk of developing a more aggressive type.

She said she has applied for two larger grants to continue her research and determine the best way to communicate the findings to the public, particularly African-American women.

"All of this is possible because of the Pelotonia fund," she said.

Examining tumors

Unlike Ramaswamy, Jonathan Song isn't focusing on a particular type of cancer.

Instead, his Pelotonia funding is aiding his research in the physical dynamics of tumors. His $100,000 grant was awarded from Pelotonia's senior-scientist funding bucket.

Song is a 36-year-old Columbus resident and an assistant professor in Ohio State's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He also is a member of the Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics research program at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

This will be Song's fourth ride, and he also will pedal the 25-mile route from Columbus to Pickerington.

Song said he always has been interested in how blood vessels can support the growth of tumors.

Cancer can reprogram blood vessels to grow faster and more haphazardly, he said. The vessels themselves can become more porous to allow cancer cells to easily enter the bloodstream, he said.

The Pelotonia funding allowed him to study a tumor's stroma – the blood vessels and noncancerous tissue that make up a tumor. Although cancer makes blood vessels more permeable, cancer cells make a tumor less permeable, making it more difficult for drugs to penetrate and destroy the cancer, he said.

Song said he hopes to look at the physical characteristics of a tumor's stroma to identify why certain drug therapies stop working. Results could help identify how to improve the drug therapies, he said.

Cancer and genetics

Dr. Sameek Roychowdhury is investigating why some cancers – specifically, some cancer cells – are resistant to treatment.

Even after a drug therapy is successful, a cancer still can become resistant to treatment, he said.

Roychowdhury, a medical oncologist who also is an assistant professor at Ohio State and head of precision cancer medicine at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, is working in the center's Translational Therapeutics research program. This year, he received a $150,000 idea grant from Pelotonia.

A 40-year-old Dublin resident, Roychowdhury has ridden in Pelotonia six times. Next month, he will ride 180 miles from Columbus to Gambier on Aug. 5 and Gambier to New Albany on Aug. 6.

Roychowdhury said cancer cells can be different genetically, even in one type of cancer in a person's body. A cancer's genetics could help determine effective treatment, he said.

To that end, he is using a body-donation program from volunteer patients to investigate how a cancer's genetics can help determine effective treatment.

The biggest surprise thus far, Roychowdhury said, has been the overwhelming excitement and gratitude patients have expressed when learning they could contribute to a study after death.

"It really caught me off guard," he said.

Roychowdhury said he hopes to continue his line of study until he finds a solution.

"Every patient's cancer is different," he said. "We have to study them all, or as many as we can."

He said the overall goal is "to develop better therapies to bring forth a cancer-free world."

Coming July 13

The third installment of #MoreThanABikeRide on July 13 will explain why people choose to ride for the cause.

Features, photos and videos from each week of the series are available at ThisWeekNEWS.com/Pelotonia.

To learn more about Pelotonia or sign up to participate, go to pelotonia.org.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah