Kay Macleod, PhD, associate professor in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research, spends a lot of time asking questions. Questions like
why do some tumors have large numbers of mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cell – while others have few?

By asking these questions, Macleod and a team from the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center, discovered that when mitochondria metabolize abnormally, breast cancer is more likely to spread to other areas of the body.

Macloed’s next step is to study breast cancer samples to determine different mitochondria patterns. Her eventual goal is to find drugs that regulate mitochondria metabolization in order to predict which tumors are likely to progress to metastasis.

For Macleod, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, being able to explore these questions wouldn’t have been possible without a gift from Y-Me Softball Tournaments, which has supported Macleod’s research for the past two years. The group raised more than $55,000 through the 21st annual Y-Me Softball Tournament for her research, and more than $300,000 overall for UChicago.

“Because of Y-Me, I was literally able to hire a person to do this work,” said Macleod. “I’m now in a position to go forward with an application to the National Cancer Institute as well so I can expand this research.”

Established in 1994 in honor of Chicago’s 19th Ward Alderman Ginger Rugai, also a breast cancer survivor, the Y-Me Softball Tournaments are held to raise money to find a cure for breast cancer.

Initially started with just eight teams of women, the tournaments, held on the South Side of Chicago, welcomed 52 teams at its most recent tournament last August. Annually more than 1,000 women participate with friends, families, and fans supporting their cause. As in past years, Rugai was present to play and encourage other players during the day-long event.

Past president of the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, Rugai says the tournaments are powerful reminders of those who have survived as well as remembrances of those who succumbed to the disease.

In her role as Alderman, Rugai is grateful for the opportunity she’s had to draw more attention to breast cancer research and the need for more funding.

“I’ve always been very outspoken and have had no qualms talking about breast cancer and advocating for a cure loud and clear,” she said. Knowing of her diagnosis, former mayor Richard Daley appointed Rugai to his task force on women’s health and she also serves as a commissioner on the Cook County Commission on Women’s Issues.

After one of Rugai’s close friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, her efforts intensified. “She had credible, renowned doctors, but she died,” Rugai said. “Dr. Macleod’s research is exciting and groundbreaking and as a result, tournament committee members and participants believe their efforts are helping her to make a difference in the lives of women.”

As for Macleod, having the support from the women keeps her focused on her mission.

“They’re a wonderful group of women and we have a lot in common, so I know where they’re coming from in terms of the anxiety to get better diagnoses and therapies. Interacting with them is so important to remember why we’re doing what we do.”