Donations helped identify important biomarker

Gracie Woods
Prowler football players lined the area near the scoreboard during the Tackle Cancer festivities in September. They donned gold socks. Gold is the color for pediatric cancer awareness. Tackle Cancer night has helped lead to a discovery in cancer research. (Times file photo)

by April Scheinoha
“I just want everyone to know that you can make a difference – no matter how slight,” said Thief River Falls resident Todd Woods.
Woods has witnessed it firsthand through Thief River Falls’ Tackle Cancer festivities. The fund has raised more than $20,000 over the course of its five-and-a-half years of existence. Most years, proceeds are earmarked for Trails to Treatments and the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund.
Now, the latter fund has some exciting news to share. It helped University of Minnesota researchers identify SEMA4D, a genetic biomarker that helps osteosarcoma grow. The disease took Zach’s life and the life of Todd’s 16-year-old daughter, Gracie. Researchers have determined they can use an existing drug to target and destroy the cancer. A clinical trial is now being conducted. It is expected to last nearly two years. The drug therapy is available at 21 sites, including the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
“This could mean treatment with no chemo at all, just the antibody drug therapy. My dream is that this will completely change the way osteosarcoma is treated and drastically improve survival rates for patients,” said Investigator Branden Moriarity, Ph.D. in a press release from the fund.
The researchers’ work is possible thanks to the Sobiech Fund and Thief River Falls’ Tackle Cancer initiative. Established five years ago, the Sobiech Fund was created while Zach was fighting cancer and seeing his song “Clouds” climb the charts. It has raised $1.5 million so far. His mom, Laura, spoke with Lincoln High School students last year.
LHS and the Thief River Falls community has their own event to raise money for cancer research. Former Prowler Head Football Coach Aric Attig started Tackle Cancer night here. He later asked Todd and Gracie to spearhead the project. After Gracie died in 2015, Todd continued working on the event held each September at a Prowler home football game. September is significant because it is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Todd also found it fitting since gold is the color commemorating pediatric cancer. As many people know, gold also happens to be a school color for the Prowlers. The Prowler football team wears gold socks for Tackle Cancer night.
Over the years, the project has grown. Besides T-shirt sales, the event now includes raffles and silent auctions. Last year, the volleyball team sold balloons to those who wished to memorialize loved ones who lost their battles with cancer. The color of each balloon coordinated with the type of cancer from which the person died.
Todd appreciates the business and community support for Tackle Cancer. Never in a million years did he think the event would lead to such a discovery. Tearing up, he said, “I just wish it had been like four years ago.”