Cancer is a devastating diagnosis and the accompanying treatment can be uncomfortable, painful and negatively affect the lives of patients and their loved ones. Cancer treatment without side effects and the body being able to heal itself from the damage of treatments is not just a pipedream, it is an achievable goal.

The Jesse and Julie Rasch Foundation of Toronto has committed to this goal of improving lives of Canadians with a generous gift of $500,000 to fund a project at The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre that aims to transform cancer treatment by making it less harmful and toxic.

Half of the 175,000 Canadians diagnosed with cancer last year will be treated with ionizing radiation during some point of their disease. It is one of the most successful targeted cancer therapies available: it is safe, effective and, in many cases, eradicates the cancer. However, it has its own collection of side effects which can be very painful to live with. Side effects are problems that can happen as a result of treatment. They may happen with radiation therapy because the high doses of radiation used to kill cancer cells can also damage healthy cells in the treatment area. Side effects are different for each person. Some people have many side effects; others have hardly any. Side effects may be more severe if also receiving chemotherapy before, during, or after radiation therapy.

Eliminating cell damage and side effects is the goal of the Regenerative Radiation Medicine Program, led by Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, Medical Director of The Princess Margaret’s Cancer Program, and Dr. Fei-Fei Liu, Chief of the Radiation Medicine Program. Regenerative medicine seeks to replace damaged tissue by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms to heal previously irreparable tissues.

This truly world-leading approach focuses on personalized radiation therapies for cancer patients that will cure without side effects. “We plan to harness the power of regenerative radiation medicine using patients’ stem cells and nanotechnology for tissue regeneration as a strategy to repair the damaging effects on tissue after radiation,” explained Dr. Liu. “The Regenerative Radiation Medicine Program will transform our ability to deliver and cure patients with fibrosis (tissue scarring from radiation) with no side effects.”

Every year, The Princess Margaret consults on 12,000 new cancer patients and delivers 10,000 courses of radiation treatments. The goal at The Princess Margaret is that one day each patient who comes through the door will be treated using tailor-made, personalized cancer therapies. After learning of this pioneering endeavor and the promise it holds, Jesse Rasch decided that he had to get involved.

Jesse Rasch, an entrepreneur and financier, has co-founded a number of successful businesses, including and VerticalScope. Currently, Rasch is Chair and CEO of Hedgewood Inc., his Toronto-based investment firm active in venture capital, Internet businesses, real estate, specialty finance, asset management, and private equity. He established the Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation in 2000 to invest in causes that reflect the charitable interests of him and his wife Julie.

“I have been impressed with the care that Dr. Gospodarowicz provides to patients at The Princess Margaret, and the tremendous work being done at the cancer centre, both in terms of patient care and research,” stated Mr. Rasch. “This gift is my way of demonstrating my appreciation.”

The $500,000 gift from The Jesse and Julie Rasch Foundation to The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in order to fund the Regenerative Radiation Medicine Program is part of the Billion Dollar Challenge to create and implement Personalized Cancer Medicine at The Princess Margaret. The gift will be used towards better understanding of radiation toxicities, identifying a patient’s predisposition to such side-effects, developing strategies to reverse fibrosis, repairing injured tissue, and learning to prevent such toxicities from developing in the first instance.