Press Release

October 4, 2005


African-American women mortality rates significantly higher than Caucasian women

Patti Blagojevich announces $700,000 in cancer research grants

CHICAGO, Ill. – First Lady Patti Blagojevich was joined by Reverend James T. Meeks, his wife Jamell Meeks and thousands of parishioners at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago today to urge women to get their annual mammogram and educate themselves about breast cancer. First Lady Patti Blagojevich kicked off the awareness month by encouraging African-American women and members of their churches to host “Pink Potlucks,” a social event that promotes women’s health awareness. In addition, Mrs. Blagojevich announced $700,000 in Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Grants. The grants are generated from donations, an income tax check off and state general revenue funds dedicated to research.

“Providing grant money to cancer researchers in Illinois is critical in taking steps toward finding a cure so that our mothers, sisters, and daughters do not have to endure this potentially deadly disease,” said Patti Blagojevich. “I encourage women to get their regular mammogram this month because we all know how important early detection is when being diagnosed with cancer.”

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women 20 years of age and older, with an estimated 9,000 women expected to be diagnosed in Illinois this year. While African-American women are not diagnosed with breast cancer as frequently as Caucasian women, the mortality rate among African Americans is 39.3 compared to 25.5 among White women.

In 2003, Gov. Blagojevich funded the Stand Against Cancer Initiative (SAC), a community outreach and screening program targeting the hardest to reach minority women. It is conducted by a coalition of neighborhood organizations, churches and Federally Qualified Health Centers. In fiscal year 2005, SAC provided 7,500 screenings and reached more than 13,000 other women through educational programs and outreach.

The “Pink Potluck” campaign builds on the Governor’s efforts to address the minority community. Mrs. Blagojevich encourages other First Ladies of African American churches to participate in the Pink Potluck campaign to bring their congregations together to discuss the health concerns, experiences and information related to women’s health. The potluck also encourages women to keep their health in check by talking with their doctors about risk factors and preventative practices. Mrs. Blagojevich announced today that if a group of 100 women or more participates in a “Pink Potluck,” they may request the presence of the state’s “Wellness on Wheels” van to provide health screenings and information to the women attending the event. The Illinois Department of Public Health administers the wellness van, which travels throughout the state to provide a variety of health screenings, including mammograms and cervical cancer screening to underserved areas.

Patti Blagojevich explained state services and programs that are available to women, such as the availability of lower cost breast cancer treatment medications through I-SaveRx, the state’s discount prescription drug program. Participants can save 20-78 percent on commonly used breast cancer treatment drugs like tamoxifen, femara, aromasin and arimdex. The FamilyCare program covers mammograms, pap smears, chemotherapy and reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy. Cancer research is responsible for the development of such breakthrough treatments like tamoxifen and screenings like the Pap test. Fourteen Illinois researchers committed to conducting breast, cervical and ovarian cancer research will receive grant money to further their research efforts in the areas of prevention, treatment and finding a cure.

“These research dollars are made possible from the generous contributions from Illinois taxpayers through the Penny Severns Fund tax check off,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “This year is the first to include ovarian cancer research due to Governor Blagojevich signing House Bill 3564 this summer, which allowed ovarian cancer to be added to the fund.”

The special fund was established in 1994 and renamed in 1999 to honor the late state Sen. Penny Severns of Decatur, who died from breast cancer. The special fund within the State Treasury issues breast, cervical and ovarian cancer grants to hospitals, laboratories, educational institutions and other organizations for the purpose of cancer research. The fund consists of general revenue funds and income tax contributions, as well as donations from foundations and nonprofit organizations. Since fiscal year 1995, the Penny Severns Research Fund has financially supported 109 research projects.

Dr. William Baldyga, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been funded in part by Penny Severns grants for the last three years. This year, he received a grant for $50,000 to continue his commitment to preventing breast and cervical cancer and promoting awareness and education among the Latina community. The “Breast and Cervical Cancer Education for Latinos” project works directly with women who have no or limited access to information to protect themselves from the leading causes of cancer deaths among women.

“Breast and cervical cancer does not just happen to ‘other’ women, ‘older’ women and is not one’s ‘fate.’ Knowledge and access to screening can protect women and their families from suffering and loss,” said Dr. Baldyga. “The uninsured, those with limited access to healthcare, and non-native English speakers have the lowest rates of cancer screening and this project is working to provide better access to potentially life-saving screenings.”

Dr. Sophia Ran from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine received a $70,000 grant to conduct breast cancer research looking at the breast tumor response to chemotherapy treatment. Dr. Ran says treatment by chemotherapy is successful for some but not all breast cancer patients because of the ability of tumor cells to fight back and produce molecules that help cells to survive.

“ We are looking for ways to undermine the tumor’s ability to recover after therapy. If successful, this new strategy for treating cancer will drastically improve the health outcome for thousands of cancer patients who might experience tumors’ recurrence after seemingly successful treatment,” said Dr. Ran.

The following is a list of Penny Severns Fiscal Year 06 grant recipients:

Principal Investigator


Project Title

Amount Awarded


*William Baldyga, Dr.PH

The University of Illinois at Chicago
Institute for Health Research and Policy

Preventing Breast and Cervical Cancer: Awareness and Education for Latina’s


Steven J. Chmura, M.D., Ph.D.

The University of Chicago
Department of Radiation Oncology

Does the Use of Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy Decrease the Biological Effectiveness of Breast Cancer Treatment?


Suzanne Conzen, M.D.

The University of Chicago
Department of Medicine

Anti-Apoptotic Signaling Via the P13K/SGK-1 Pathway in Breast



Andrei Gartel, Ph.D.

The University of Illinois at Chicago
Department of Medicine

A Novel Compound that Induces Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells



Laura Murphy, Ph.D.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale
Department of Physiology


Combining Anti-Cancer Ginsenosides to Treat Human Breast Cancer


Sophia Ran, Ph.D.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology

Optimizing Response of Breast Tumors to Chemotherapy



Miriam Rodin, M.D., Ph.D.

The University of Chicago
Department of Medicine

Functional Impact of Breast Cancer Treatment in Older Women



*Guoxing Zheng, Ph.D.


The University of Illinois at Rockford
Department of Biomedical Sciences


T-Cell Therapeutics for Breast Cancer


Maria Barbolina, Ph.D.
Project Supervisor:
Sharon Stack Ph.D.

Northwestern University Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Epigenetic Regulation of Ovarian Cancer Metastasis


Michael Chinander, Ph.D.
Project Supervisor:
Robert Nishikawa, Ph.D.

The University of Chicago
Department of Radiology


Observer Evaluation of a Method for Producing Simulated Mammograms


Amy Hakim, M.D.
Project Supervisor:
Serdar Bulun, M.D.

Northwestern University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Novel Target Genes of the Progesterone in Ovarian Epithelial Cells: Link to Prevention of Ovarian Cancer


Hilary Kenny, Ph.D.
Ernst Lengyel, M.D., Ph.D

University of Chicago Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Establishment and Characterization of an Organotypic 3D Culture to Investigate Peritoneal Attachment and Invasion of Ovarian Cancer Cells


Gu Li, Ph.D.
Project Supervisor:
Laimonis Laimins, Ph.D.

Northwestern University -
Department of


Phosphorylation of Host Cell Proteins in Response to High-Risk HPV Infection


Min Zou, Ph.D.
Project Supervisor:
Suzanne Conzen, M.D.

The University of Chicago
Department of Medicine

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Uncover Breast Cancer Cell Survival Pathways


Gov. Blagojevich has made other significant contributions to promote and improve women’s health including:

  • Increased funding for women’s health: Since taking office, Gov. Blagojevich has proven women’s health is a priority by increasing funding every year. In fiscal year 2006, he has included $4 million in state funding to support breast and cervical cancer screening and education.
  • Investment in screening and education programs: In FY 05, the total amount of funds supporting breast and cervical cancer programs was $11.45 million including $6.15 million in state dollars. Over the last two years, investments toward breast and cervical cancer screening and education programs in Illinois totals more than $21 million. Gov. Blagojevich also passed legislation in December creating a 12-member Cervical Cancer Elimination Task Force to help educate the public about cervical cancer and develop a statewide comprehensive prevention and control plan.
  • Signed women’s health legislation into law: This summer, Gov. Blagojevich signed several pieces of legislation effecting women’s health in Illinois. The “Ticket for a Cure” is a new lottery game to raise money for breast cancer research. Senate Bill 12 requires insurance companies to cover screening for breast cancer earlier in a woman’s life if her doctor considers her to be at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. House Bill 3564 expanded the Penny Severns Breast and Cervical Cancer Research Fund to include ovarian cancer research. Senate Bill 521 requires insurers to provide coverage for ovarian cancer screening tests for women who are at risk.
  • Breast and Cervical Cancer Funding : Provided funding to screen additional women for breast and cervical cancer. Nearly 39,000 women in two years, 44 percent of whom are minorities, received free screenings through the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP).
  • WISEWOMAN : Piloted the WISEWOMAN cardiovascular research project in DuPage County. The project is targeted toward women in the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program and helps them reduce heart disease by leading healthier lifestyles. It is now expanding to 19 counties.
  • Women’s Health Education : Provided funding and support for community-based information and education programs. In fiscal year 2006, Women’s Health Initiative grants totaling $1.6 million in state funding were awarded to 77 local health departments and other non-profit organizations to fund educational programs focusing on cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, menopause and eating disorders.
  • Women’s Health-Line : Increased access to services through Women’s Health-Line and other informational resources. In FY05, the state-funded toll-free Women’s Health-Line responded to more than 2,000 requests, referring women to services and providing nearly 600,000 free educational materials to women and community providers. These materials are also available through the department’s website.
  • Illinois Healthy Women program : The Healthy Women program has helped women across the state stay healthy by providing comprehensive reproductive health care coverage, including annual physicals, pap smears, mammograms, screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptives.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich also proclaimed October 21 as mammography day to remind women about getting a mammogram.

For more information on women’s health and programs visit or call the Women’s Health-Line at 888-522-1282 or for TTY (hearing impaired use only), 800-547-0466.

You may also call the health-line to inquire about the availability of the wellness vans for “Pink Potluck” events.


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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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