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Sankara Cancer Foundation Fund Raising Event

Krishna, Rajan and Rajesh

Sankara Cancer Foundation fund raising event – Park Theater, RI
A music & dance concert to foster collaborative efforts towards serving poor rural patients with cancer in India

Sankara Cancer Foundation, Inc. (http://www.sankaracancer.org/) is a New England based 501(c)(3) organization established in 2012, to serve the needs of the poor patients with cancer in India.  Hindu Mission Hospitals, the main recipient of the efforts in Trichy have been informally involved in these efforts since 2011, and the members of the foundation had been working from 2009 in an informal capacity with that effort before SCF was founded. The specific focus of the foundation and the hospital has been to set up preventative measures and programs for women’s cancers – cervical and breast cancer and this work has been progressing with grants and professional support from various organizations in the US and India – including the Association of Indian Pathologists of North America (AIPNA) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras.

This father’s day event, held on Sunday, June 16th 3-7 pm, at the historic Park Theatre in Cranston, Rhode Island, was the first annual fund raiser for Sankara Cancer Foundation in Rhode Island. It was attended well by local supporters, and adorned by stellar performances by highly regarded and talented New England artists.

The cultural program
Dr. Sri Krishna, Secretary of the Foundation gave the welcome address, and Rajesh Vaidheeswarran, President of the Foundation proposed the vote of thanks.

Smt. Sudha Raghuraman, the accomplished vocalist from India, opened the show impressively with prayers.

Dr. Pravin Sitaram and his students on the Mridangam started the performance. Pravin and his students set the tone in an electrifying manner. The outstanding thani avarthanam in adi talam highlighted the many subtleties of the art, the instrument and the talent of the artists.

Ms. Mouli Pal and her students followed with Odissi. This was a superb display of the ancient art of Odissi by the dancers of Upasana, an organization dedicated  to the preservation of Odissi. Ms. Pal and her students presented the dances with grace. Upasana presented beautiful pieces depicting Spring and Monsoon, and followed with a rarely performed masterpiece of Guru Kelucharan depicting a monsoon cloud producing a lashing rainstorm as a sort of war.

This was followed by a beautiful rendition by students of  Natya Sudhalahari Prafulla Velury, a well known and highly respected local teacher of Indian classical dances (Kuchipudi). From tiny tots dancing to Vandana Trayee, to older students performing Jatisvaram to the finale of this act – the Tarangam where dancers danced on the brass plate, Prafulla depicted Krishna playing with the Gopis, who are pining for him. All in all, it was a sublime performance. The program ended on a high note, with an, energetic Bollywood style medley by Jhoom US, which was also well received.

Many donors and organizations contributed material towards a raffle where donors won items from iRobot Roombas , iPod shuffles, to Macy’s 25% off coupons. The raffle was a grand success with many people contributing towards the same. Volunteers served a vegetarian dinner at the end of the show to all attendees. Dr. Dewar announced an AIPNA grant towards the establishment of the lab, as well as an OncoMDx grant for diagnostic tests. Cash and kind donations worth $30,000 were raised, between the donations, AIPNA grants and the material donations from Yale and OncoMDx.

Lectures on Cancer and prevention
Other than the superb display of art, perhaps the most distinguished aspect of this event was the participation of local physicians with a specific interest and expertise in Cancer. Dr. Pankaj Bhargava, an oncologist from Dana Farber, gave an overview about “what is cancer?” – this lecture was in a simple format, understandable by the general audience, which was very educational. He also presented recent data from India, which showed the growing incidence of cancer in India and effective preventive strategies – for example – visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) for cervical cancer. Of note, Hindu Mission Hospital, had successfully implemented the infrastructure for this method for cancer screening in the last year, by training Dr. Jeyapandi, the gynecologist at HMH, Trichy, at a WHO center (RCC, Trivandrum). Funds from previous fund raising events were useful in setting this operation. Dr. Nicole Johnson, a cytopathologist from Harvard Medical School gave an overview of cytology – “What is a Pap smear?” and how it helps in screening for early lesions. Dr. Nicole Johnson is involved and spear heading the efforts to develop a cytology laboratory, the main intent behind this fund raising effort. She will be traveling to Trichy to train, educate and set up operations with the local staff. Dr. Vinita Parkash from Yale University donated two microscopes that were received by Dr. Rajan Dewar, Advisor for SCF and by Shri. S. Vaidheeswaran, Trustee of HMH Trichy, where they will be used in the laboratory and towards training cytologists in reading Pap smears.

Project overview
    The funds generated from this event and donations to SCF are spent on the cancer initiative of SCF projects such as the first one at HMH Trichy. In the past years, HMH had set up various screening programs, health camps (Thuraiyur, Manapparai, Palayamkottai etc.,).  While cancer spares no one (rich / poor, urban / rural) it is the poor and those in non-metropolitan and villages that suffer the most due to lack of resources. These are the targeted population and the main focus of HMH and its doctors. Currently, there is a focus on improving the laboratory infrastructure for cervical cancer screening. A recent grant from AIPNA and several generous individual donations will be useful in setting up this laboratory.

HMH is planning on expanding its screening activities in Trichy and neighboring villages and districts. Infrastructure improvement for breast cancer is being driven by Dr. Shambavi Venkatraman, from BIDMC / HMS.

Collaborative work with Indian Institute of Technology, Madras to develop low cost technology for cancer screening
A cost effective technology for mass screening will be very helpful; The chemical engineering department at IIT, Madras was working on the development of an automated algorithm to screen for cancer cells this last year. Drs. Basavaraja and Sridharakumar, IIT-M faculty mentored a B.Tech project in developing this technology. This project by  B.Tech student, Mr. Suyog Sawala’s won a National award from JED-I (Joy of Engineering Design and Innovation).
Suyog’s algorithm is able to discriminate between abnormal cervical cells and normal cells, based on cellular geometry. Improvisation of this device will result in a low cost and fast primary screening by an instrument rather than a trained individual. This is one of the active program projects that HMH Trichy is collaborating and supporting.

Local collaboration and need for help:
Several New England educational institutions have started collaborating and provide support for these initiatives. HMS physicians, individuals in Boston University, the school of public health (BU and Harvard) have committed support.

There is a need for volunteers in this project. Regardless of your background, there is a lot of challenging areas that needs input and support. Cancer screening needs social entrepreneurship, engineers, physicians and humanitarians to work together. As an example, SCF plans to work with IIT-SINE (a strong alumni network of IITians in New England) to brainstorm how to help from a technology, social science and economic standpoint. Dr. Anil Saigal and Ranjani Saigal had initial discussions with SCF board.

Sankara Cancer foundation is reaching out to the Indian diaspora and seeking generous assistance from all local individuals to serve the poor and needy. Please contact any of the board members or email them your interests. In addition, at this phase of active development of infrastructure and skilled manpower, there is a need for financial support, grants and donations. If individuals or organizations can contact us for individual or matching grants, that will help make this program a success and aid in this opportunity to serve the people, which is the same as serving God.

For more information on SCF’s cancer programs at HMH Trichy, you can contact

Rajan Dewar MD PhD (cervical cancer) / Shambavi Venkatraman MD (Breast cancer)
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center / Harvard Medical School
Advisors, SCF

Krishna Srikrishna PhD
Secretary – Sankara Cancer Foundation

Rajesh Vaidheeswarran
President – Sankara Cancer Foundation

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of automated algorithm developed by Suyog Sawala, IIT, Madras

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