Every October, an odd assortment of runners and walkers—many dressed in Halloween costumes—assembles at the Tidal Basin on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Their goal: to run 10K or walk two miles to raise awareness and money for kidney cancer research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Boo! Run and Walk is the brainchild of the family of Dean R. O’Neill, whose battle with kidney cancer ended in 2003.
Renal cell carcinoma, commonly known as kidney cancer, is an under-researched and growing disease, with an estimated 79,000 new diagnoses in the United States in 2022. 1
Dean, a respected financial executive with several high-tech and defense contracting companies, learned that he had kidney cancer in 1996. He immediately began a relentless search to learn about the disease and the latest treatments. At the NIH, Dean discovered a cutting-edge clinical trial led by Dr. Richard Childs that focused on harnessing the immune system to eradicate cancer.
Initially given only a few months to live, Dean survived the disease for seven additional years thanks to the care and treatments he received at the NIH. “Dean was not only relentless in fighting his disease, he was relentless in learning about kidney cancer and sharing his knowledge with the patient community,” recalled Susanne O’Neill, Dean’s spouse of 32 years.
Continuing Dean R. O’Neill’s Legacy through Philanthropy
Dean’s fight is an example of the brave contributions that patients make every day at the NIH to advance science. After Dean’s passing, the O’Neill family turned to the FNIH to help support long-term funding for basic research in the study of kidney cancer.
The Dean R. O’Neill Renal Cell Cancer Research Fund was created in 2003 as one of the first donor memorial funds at the FNIH. The fund supports research fellows in Dr. Childs’ lab at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at NIH. The fellows aim to advance biomedical discovery with bold research and treatments, such as allogeneic stem cell transplantation, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, vaccine therapy, and drug treatments.
In 2006, the O’Neill family decided to increase community engagement with something fun—the Boo! Run and Walk. They announced it, and thousands of people came. During the COVID pandemic, the Boo! Run and Walk has continued virtually, with participants posting pictures of their walks and runs—often in costume—on social media. Brian O’Neill, Dean’s son and the event organizer, is thrilled that the virtual format has enabled his family to expand awareness and participation globally.
“We evolved our event to a weeklong run and walk challenge during the last week of October. It’s really great to see participants support kidney cancer research in communities all over the world,” said Brian O’Neill.
For more about the 2022 Boo! Run and Walk Challenge, and to join in, go to https://boo.run.
Nineteen Years of Impact
From December 2003 to today, the O’Neill Fund has received well over 2,600 gifts totaling more than $700,000, supporting nine fellows over the past 19 years.
“Our fellows have contributed tremendously to the study of kidney cancer. We are extremely proud to have sponsored many young scientists since our fund’s founding,” Dean’s son Matthew O’Neill stated.
Representing the best and brightest of the next generation of scientists and physician scientists, each of the fellows accepted into the program has made individual advances to increase understanding of a naturally occurring T-cell receptor in the immune system that targets renal cell carcinoma and to develop therapies using this T-cell receptor. The team’s work has led to a current ongoing clinical trial in which 14 kidney cancer patients have been treated thus far.
The O’Neill Fund also has been integral to the training and career progression of the fellows. Departing fellows have passed on discoveries to the new incoming fellows, so that they can continue to systematically chip away at the goal of developing new and effective immunotherapies to treat advanced-stage kidney cancer. All the fellows have become active members of the medical scientific community.
|Elena Cherkasova||Senior staff scientist, NHLBI|
|Mattias Carlsten||Principal investigator, Center for Hematology and Regenerative Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Sweden|
|Quinn Weismann||Attending physician, Children’s Hospital Philadelphia|
|Claire Scrivani||Ob-gyn resident, University of Virginia|
|Susan Doh||General surgery resident, Case Western Reserve University/University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center|
|David Granadier||Medical scientist trainee, University of Washington|
|Stefan Barisic||Research fellow, NHLBI|
|Emily Levy||Senior scientist, Immuno-oncology & Cell Therapy Engineering, Merck|
|Angie Parrizzi||Current O’Neill fellow|