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Laura’s Legacy Lives On

Posted on October 12, 2012, 1:30 PM
Laura’s Legacy Lives On
Susan B. Landau, featuring her work.

by Jules DiBiase

Arriving at the Paley Center a few nights ago, it was both exciting and sad to be a part of the gathering of all those who knew and loved Laura Ziskin. We were there to celebrate the release of Laura Ziskin: Collective Memories & Photographs by Susan B. Landau, producer, photographer, and Laura’s best friend for 35 years. Although, it turns out, there was so much more in store.

As she had somehow done for nearly everyone in the room, Laura Ziskin influenced my life in immeasurable ways. I worked for Laura for almost as many years as I have been in Los Angeles, happily doing everything from grabbing her lunch as an intern to, in my current role as Director of Digital for SU2C, coming up with ways to spread Stand Up’s message of accelerating innovative cancer research through scientific collaboration.

Laura’s physical absence did not stop her from leaving her signature mark on the event: that night, we also announced the inaugural Stand Up To Cancer Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Cancer Research. This year’s prize-winning scientists will collaborate to take on the exact form of elusive breast cancer that took Laura’s life.

Laura died of metastatic breast cancer that was estrogen receptor-positive (“ER+”) and had a texture that allowed it to escape detection until it had already spread widely. She nevertheless lived for seven years before the disease, which had become independent of estrogen, took her life in June 2011. 

After Susan Landau brought the house to tears with her reflections on the ways Laura – iconic film producer, Stand Up To Cancer co-founder, friend, mother, mentor, shining light – had touched our lives so deeply, Dr. John Glaspy, Professor of Medicine in the UCLA Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, and chairperson of the Stand Up To Cancer Executive Management Committee, took the stage. He put it perfectly when he remarked, “Someone said Laura is not with us anymore. I disagree. Laura is only not with us if we stop honoring her memory.” That is to say, this prize, this book, and this gathering of the people who love Laura is our way of ensuring that Laura and her vision stay with us for a very long time to come.

The 2012 Laura Ziskin Prize will facilitate a collaboration aimed at developing therapies that can reverse estrogen-targeted treatment resistance in ER+ breast cancer. A one-year grant of $250,000 will be shared by two scientists at different institutions to collaborate on high-risk, high-reward research. The recipients of the 2012 prize are Feyruz V. Rassool, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and Stephen Baylin, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

Dr. Rassool’s work focuses on developing drugs that will block a genetic pathway that actually facilitates the survival of large numbers of cancer cells. Dr. Baylin is studying the epigenetic mechanisms that cancer cells use to modify the function of normal genes and pathways in a way that contributes to the abnormal growth that occurs in cancer. If these processes can be blocked, therapies that are already widely used to treat breast cancer will have a better chance to work in these cases.

As is the Stand Up To Cancer “way,” the Laura Ziskin Prize brings different researchers from different institutions together to work on a unique problem in new and interesting ways. While such collaborations aren’t always success, we’re pretty confident this collaboration will work out, given that Dr. Baylin and Dr. Rassool happen to be husband and wife. Dr. Rassool kept her remarks short, saying, “The proof is in the pudding. I can say no more than the results that we plan to show in a year or two.” Dr. Baylin added “We pledge one thing: we will work as hard as we can. We wish we could have done more [for Laura] that would have direct benefit, but we will do something now. “

After the speeches were over and the eyes started to dry up, I ran into Michael Seligman, Academy Award producer, Stand Up To Cancer producer, and long-time collaborator of Laura’s. He asked me what I was up to these days. I looked at him, stupefied. “I’m still working for Laura.”

Of course.

Jules DiBiase is Stand Up To Cancer’s Director of Digital Media.

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Posted by Cathy McMurtrie | October 18, 2012 11:27 AM

Laura has inspired so many people, some with cancer and others who are perfectly healthy.  In either situation she makes everyone want to get involved.  Laura is now in heaven looking down on us making sure we all stay on the right path.  Her love of life will keep all of us moving forward.

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