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Dr. Jonathan Keats Has Plenty of Mettle to Pedal

Scientist rode 50-mile, 5,000-foot climb in honor of multiple myeloma patients.

Riding a bicycle 590 miles from Los Angeles, California, to Flagstaff, Arizona, is a daunting challenge for anyone, let alone for a cancer patient.

Four multiple myeloma patients recently rose to that challenge as part of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation's (MMRF) Road to Victories Ride - a 3,400-mile journey across America to raise funds and awareness for a cancer that will strike about 30,000 Americans this year.

TGen assistant professor Jonathan Keats joined the group of about 20 riders for the 50-mile, 5,000-foot climb from Cottonwood, Arizona to Flagstaff on September 9.

"It's a lot of going uphill," said Dr. Keats, who used to have a Canadian professional mountain biking racing license. "But it was a pretty slow ride. No one was hammering on it, and it was enough of a ride for me considering the other people had already done 540 miles."

Dr. Keats leads the scientific arm of the MMRF-funded CoMMpass study, which uses patients' genetic profiles to inform multiple myeloma treatment. In its sixth year, CoMMpass is the largest cancer genomics study in the world with 1,000 patients who have undergone whole genome, whole exome, and RNA sequencing, including almost 200 patients who have relapsed during treatment.

Historically, average survival from diagnosis for multiple myeloma patients was three years, and today it's about seven. 

"When I started this research in 1999, patients took their mustard gas with their steroids, and they hoped they would be able to stop taking it so they could enjoy Christmas," he said. 

The Road to Victories started on September 2 in Manhattan Beach, California, and wraps up on October 21 in Fairfield, Connecticut. You can track their progress at https://endurance.themmrf.org/RoadToVictories.

"If there's a success story, it's that the treatments for multiple myeloma have progressed enough that there are patients who are definitely capable of doing this type of ride," Dr. Keats explained. "It is possible for these people to be treated and do this, and if not something like this, at least they can walk to the coffee shop with their best friend. It's changed dramatically."


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