Cure First performs cutting-edge cancer research through Project Sweetheart, a series of genome-wide studies which aim to identify targeted treatments for ovarian and breast cancer.

  • Going beyond DNA sequencing, Cure First uses functional interrogation of both genes and/or existing drugs to define future targets for drug development. We also look to re-position drugs used for other cancers which may also prove effective for ovarian or breast cancer.
  • Cure First employs the power of robotic testing directly in patient-derived cells in order to find the optimal drug combinations among the thousands of possible permutations. Ultimately, drug combinations will be the key to arriving at curative and more durable responses.
  • Cure First integrates the results from its screenings with The Cancer Genome Atlas and other databases to establish new markers that more accurately predict drug sensitivities for breast and ovarian cancer.

The Project Sweetheart studies are crucial first steps toward the creation of targeted therapies for individual cancer patients.

Cure First launched Project Sweetheart in the Spring of 2014 with a donation of $50,000 to University of Washington oncologists Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, Dr. Barbara Goff and Dr. VK Gadi.

Dr. Carla Grandori presenting Dr. Gadi with the donation check for breast cancer screens.

According to Dr. Gadi, “the donation has permitted the first-ever, patient-derived cell screening of over 700 genes, coding for proteins, called kinases, in four patients with breast cancer whose disease had recurred despite state-of-the-arts therapies. Though more work needs to take place, the screens have already pointed to interesting pathways which might be targeted to overcome resistance to the standard therapies that failed patients. ”



Dr. Gadi and his team have begun to validate some of these targets and the initial results are holding up. The data has been presented both at the NIH in May 2015 and at the annual ASCO meeting in June 2015 where it was greeted with enthusiasm.

who was sweetheart?

We first heard about Janie from her daughter Stephanie, who contacted us in July 2012. Stephanie was searching for new and novel approaches to studying and treating her mother’s cancer, and was intrigued by our work in the field of functional genomics, which is the study of how genes affect the growth and survival of certain cells.

Click on image to learn more about  "Sweetheart,"  Janie Hodges Shaffer.

Click on image to learn more about "Sweetheart," Janie Hodges Shaffer.

For me, Cure First is hope. Hope that there is a path that can be taken to provide not only personalized therapies, but also non-toxic cures. Helplessness can become overwhelming when watching a loved one suffer endlessly because of aggressive chemotherapy regimens. Cure First, through the detailed screening of the genetic make-up of the pathways of a tumor, opens a new door. For my family it means moving forward and exploring new possibilities.
— Stephanie Martinez

By combining high-powered robotic instruments with new technologies that isolate one gene at a time, Dr Grandori had identified dozens of potential new targets for the treatment of difficult cancers.  Dr Grandori had also begun to explore culturing cancer cells from patient biopsies and screening them against hundreds of known compounds to search for other treatment options.  Stephanie wanted to know if Cure First could apply these approaches to Janie’s cancer.

Janie traveled to Seattle and we arranged for her to have a special consultation with Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, one of the world’s preeminent specialists in ovarian cancer.  Unfortunately, her disease was too far advanced and moving too quickly.  A few months later, she passed away.  Her long battle with ovarian cancer was over.

Now, Janie’s friends and family have taken up that battle where Janie left off.  Their support, and their belief in our approach, has inspired us to further pioneer the culture and screening of patient-derived cells.  As we refine and perfect these methods, we move ever closer to the day when people like Janie will face cancer with the odds on their side.

Project Sweetheart was initiated and inspired by a mother, a grandmother and a daughter whose determination and resilience were fueled by love.  These women, and families just like them, are the reason we do this work.  By naming this project after Janie, we join the battle she fought, along with thousands of others like her.  Together, we plan to make real what seemed impossible such a short time ago.

Proceeds from your donation will help fund Cure First's continuing efforts to discover new drug targets for ovarian and breast cancers.