Moving Science

Nurturing bright ideas: Change Agent Key Foster

September 1, 2018

Key Foster wasn’t unaware of Southern Research’s decades long focus on cancer and the numerous life-saving drugs to SR’s credit. But that wasn’t the main reason he chose to support cancer research as part of the Change Campaign. “Cancer is very meaningful to me,” he said. “My wife is a breast cancer survivor, and my father lost his battle with kidney cancer in May. It’s a very personal issue.”

He found out that it was a very personal issue for a lot of people. “Cancer is a topic that, if you intersect with it, it’s a big deal,” Foster said. “And it’s shocking how many people have, either personally or through their families, intersected with it.” When he opened up to others in the community about his experiences with cancer, he was surprised at the number of people who were inspired to share not only their money but their own personal stories. “Hearing all that, it’s not surprising that people are so willing to participate,” he said.

One thing Foster appreciated was the significance of the funds he was raising through the Change Campaign—funds that would go directly to research scientists just down the street who had the potential to move mountains, if given the right resources. The money will support earlier-stage, higher-risk research that hasn’t progressed enough to qualify for federal grants. “It’s like venture capital for scientists,” he said.

“It gives ideas a chance,” Foster said. “I assume there’s a good number of really bright ideas that never make it to the surface, never get a chance to come to fruition or evolve into something, because of that funding gap. This money gives these scientists a chance to incubate those ideas and get them to the point where they can get those government grants to continue the research that could one day birth new drugs and therapies for cancer.”

“It can truly move the needle with smaller amounts of money. It just makes the whole thing make sense,” Foster said. “It would be thrilling to contribute, even in our small way, in support of a major breakthrough by one of these brilliant scientists.”

Because those ideas are being created and nurtured here in Birmingham, Foster was able to meet—and be amazed by—the research scientists who would be turning those donations into discoveries. He was particularly inspired by the work of oncology researcher Rebecca Boohaker, Ph.D., much of whose research focuses on immunotherapy.

“These are therapies that enable the immune system to recognize, target and eliminate cancer cells wherever they are in the body,” he said. “This is potentially a universal answer to cancer.” Boohaker’s research could one day mean happy endings for all the stories he heard during the Change Campaign, “and I get to know the real players who have dedicated their careers and lives to solving these really tough problems,” he said.

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