Ocala Royal Dames Fund $1 Million for Moffitt Cancer Research

By Guest Writer - November 04, 2022

The Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research has now funded more than $1 million in research projects at Moffitt Cancer Center. It’s a remarkable milestone for a small nonprofit made up of roughly 250 members who are united behind a single goal: to eradicate cancer.

“This is an all-volunteer, local group with no overhead and no ties to sending money for any other purpose than cancer research in our area,” said president Patricia Tennant Sokol.

The Ocala Royal Dames generously fund research at Moffitt and the University of Florida, selecting proposals that have been pre-screened by experts at each institution. The group funds at least four $50,000 research projects every two years and specifies that funds go only to research, not to administrative costs. The group also sponsors educational seminars and scholarships at the College of Central Florida.

A local committee of medical experts reviews the proposals and offers guidance. But it’s the members who collectively vote on winning ideas.

“The Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research is a remarkable success story,” said Maria Muller, president of the Moffitt Foundation. “Their review process is very sophisticated. Their steadfast commitment shows how one organization can make a real impact to advance our understanding and treatment of cancer.”

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"Their steadfast commitment shows how one organization can make a real impact to advance our understanding and treatment of cancer."

- Maria Muller, President of the Moffitt Foundation

The Ocala Royal Dames raises money through a popular annual gala and other events.

Over the years, the Ocala Royal Dames has funded 40 research projects at Moffitt. This year, the group announced funding for three new studies:

  • A study led by Moffitt’s Dr. Joseph Markowitz to better understand why patients with melanoma respond differently to certain available therapies after the melanoma is surgically removed.
  • A pilot study led by Moffitt’s Dr. Jameel Muzaffar to better understand the relationship between the gut microbiome and immunotherapy, benefitting patients with head and neck squamous cell cancer.
  • A study led by Moffitt’s Dr. Marilena Tauro to investigate whether increased levels of a protein called ULK3 can be used to predict outcomes for patients with triple-negative breast cancer, which would help guide treatment decisions.

The group has previously funded Moffitt projects including:

  • Adoptive cell therapy using tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL). In this project led by Dr. John Mullinax of Moffitt’s Sarcoma Program, doctors remove a portion of a tumor from a patient and grow billions of white blood cells from that tumor in a laboratory. These cells are infused back into the patient, where they are then able to attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. This research is designed to determine if this therapy can be effective on sarcomas, as it has been in other types of cancer.
  • A project led by Dr. Heiko Enderling to develop a computer model that simulates the effectiveness of using chemotherapy and immunotherapy in the treatment of a type of cancer known as epithelial ovarian cancer.
  • Personalizing a form of treatment for prostate cancer known as adaptive hormone therapy.

Joan Audette, a charter member and past president of the Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research, said members work very diligently to organize the events and sponsorships that raise money. They work just as hard to carefully review the proposals from researchers. They appreciate the close relationship and clear communication they enjoy with Moffitt.

“Moffit does a very, very good job of using the money that we donate carefully and strategically,” Audette said.

Why are the members so committed to this cause?

“Cancer kills too many people,” Sokol said. “In my family, in my friends, in people that we work with, it needs to be stopped.”

Audette agrees. “Any stride toward eradicating cancer is beneficial to every family in the world.”


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