By Kerry Breen
On Sat., April 29, the third annual ‘Layups4Life’ fundraising event, hosted by Dan Exter, is set to be held at Roxbury High School. All of the proceeds from the event are donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC).
Exter himself is a cancer survivor. In 2013 he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), along with a genetic mutation called a Philadelphia chromosome. This second factor made it a more complicated and rare type of cancer.
“ALL is typically found in young children,” said Exter, in a phone interview. “To find it in a 27-year-old doesn’t happen too frequently. I needed heavy, intensive chemo and full body radiation.”
Exter needed a T-cell transfusion to give him the best chance of beating the cancer. First he was checked to see if he was a match with any siblings – he has one brother, and there was only a 25 percent chance he was a match. Luckily, he wound up being a match, meaning that Exter did not need to go on a donor list.
“It was certainly a tough road, between chemo and full body radiation,” explained Exter. “I said to myself – ‘If I beat this thing, if I make my way out of it, I want to do something in the fight against this disease’.”
His passion for basketball – Exter has played the sport since the age of ten, on high school teams, recreational teams, and travel teams, as well as playing in various leagues and tournaments, and described himself as ‘a big basketball junkie’ – was what made him decide to create a tournament and donate the proceeds to MSKCC.
“Running a tournament seemed very easy for me to do,” he explained. “It was something I was comfortable with. People come to get a workout, to support someone currently fighting; I knew I wanted to do something sports-related so basketball would be the way to go for me.”
He reached out to Roxbury High School both because of his status as alum and the knowledge that he had contacts within their athletic programs. One of his friends, Stu Mason, was a member of the facility; after meetings with Mason and other staff members from the school, as well as dedicated team members from MSKCC who focus on events like these, the events came together.
The first tournament was in 2015 and raised ten thousand dollars in a single event. In 2016 he and his fiancée, Dana, ran the event again, raising between seventeen and eighteen thousand dollars. The two tournaments combined raised nearly thirty thousand dollars, and Exter expects that this year’s event will raise another record-breaking amount.
Those donations actually amounted to enough funds to help complete the research of doctor Bart Getta, a fellow on a bone marrow transplant team at MSKCC. Getta’s work focuses on leukemia cells that can linger after a patient receives a stem cell transplant. They noticed a problem where a number of patients with acute leukemia who are in complete remission at the time of the transplant end up relapsing at some point afterwards.
Getta and colleagues created a plan that used two approaches. The first involved next-generation sequencing, which is a technique used to detect very small amounts of mutations that are specific for the type of leukemia the patient has. The second approach was called multi-parameter flow cytometry, which is a technique that looks at markers on the surface of cells and can also detect very small percentages of abnormal cells in an otherwise normal appearing marrow.
Bone marrow samples were examined in 122 patients, before and after undergoing an allogeneic stem cell transplant. The results showed that patients who had evidence of leukemia by either of the above tests before transplant were more likely to relapse after transplant, compared to those who were negative for both tests. When comparing the two tests, the flow cytometry test was the most useful, as the DNA test only detected certain mutations.
The next step of the research is to expand the set of mutations the test can detect to increase its utility. These results will have important implications on how patients with acute leukemia who undergo transplants are treated, and will hopefully lead to the new ways to reduce the risk of relapse later.
This is just one project that has been assisted by the donations of the Layups4Life events. The above research was given ten thousand dollars in funding from the event. In total, Exter donates the funds to three different departments.
“There are so many worthy causes, but for my personal battle, I wanted to give to the places that related to what I went through,” explained Exter. The donations were given to research on pediatric cancer, leukemia, and bone marrow research. “[Getta’s research] was something that gave me goosebumps.”
This year’s event is set for Sat., April 29, at the Roxbury High School. It will be a series of three on three basketball tournaments; those of all skills levels, ages, and interests can register to play. Registration is open online at www.layups4life.org; those interested can also donate directly through the site.