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TGen researcher remembered; benefit in her honor

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Dec. 3, 2008 -- On today's anniversary of the passing of TGen researcher Alana Lysholm-Bernacchi, her husband Brett Bernacchi remembers her and discusses the importance of the upcoming benefit in her honor.

The first Alana's Champs 5K, a run and walk to benefit brain cancer research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), is set for Dec. 6 at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza.

Alana was a neurogenomics researcher for TGen. She studied hearing loss, Down syndrome and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease. A north Phoenix resident, she died as the result of a brain tumor on Dec. 3, 2007.

Brett Bernacchi was interviewed by TGen senior science writer Steve Yozwiak:

- How did you and Alana first meet? And how did you re-connect?

Alana and I met by chance in Grand Forks, N.D. We were teenagers traveling with our respective teams and we both happened to have functions there the same weekend. Her ballet school stayed at the same hotel as my wrestling team. We met, talked, shared a laugh, and some breakfast on the morning we left to go to our respective homes. She gave me her address then went back home to Minneapolis, Minn. I was living in Winnipeg. We started a long-distance relationship through letters and an occasional phone call. We wound up together, but unfortunately at 21 she was ready to take on the world and we broke up.

We spoke intermittently for the next few years then fell out of contact. About 2001, I found an article about her health struggles that was printed in a newspaper from her hometown. I was concerned, so I phoned her father to find out how she was doing. He never told her that I had called. Again, in the spring of 2005, I found another article from her hometown paper. This time it reported a "recurrence" of her brain tumor. Doctors had given her less than six months to live, but she miraculously began to heal despite their grim prognosis. The article was published approximately only two months before I actually found it. She was more than seven months from the prognosis and 'healing spiritually and mentally' according to the writer. This time I reached out to Alana after finding her email address at the University of Michigan, where she had been continuing her PhD research.

She emailed back within an hour. We spoke on the phone and it was as if only a day had passed since the last time we were together and happy. In actuality, it had been more than 10 years since we had spoken. We were married in Sedona in the fall that same year.

- What do you miss the most about her?

Her amazing smile.

- What would you like the public to know most about Alana's work here at TGen?

Her work as a scientist was exceptional and the passion in which she performed it was undeniable.

- What do you think she would make of the upcoming event named in her memory?

The event is her "gift" to all of us. She would have gladly given her life if it meant she would be helping to save others from pain and suffering. Alana loved life and all those who live it.

Thank you for your work in helping to make the inaugural Alana's Champs a success.

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If you go

Where: Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, just east of the Arizona State Capitol, 1700 W. Washington St., Phoenix.

When: Dec. 6. Event-day registration starts at 7 a.m.; the 5-kilometer run starts at 8 a.m.; the 5K walk at 8:10 a.m.; and the 1-mile run/walk at 8:45 a.m., followed by a kids dash and raffle.

Participation Fees: -- Ages 13 and up: $25 pre-registration; $30 on Dec. 6.
-- Ages 5-12: $10.
-- Children ages 4 and younger are free.

Details: Please visit the TGen Foundation at www.helptgen.org or call Erin Massey, assistant director of development, at 602-343-8470.

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About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process.


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