Project Purple expands reach

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From left, Tufts Medical Center Director of Oncology Dr. Wasif Saif, Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli of Beacon Falls and Tufts Medical Cancer Center Philanthropy Officer Scott Neely pose for a photo after Verrelli recently awarded the center with a $35,000 grant, one of two grants the nonprofit organization awarded. –CONTRIBUTED
From left, Tufts Medical Center Director of Oncology Dr. Wasif Saif, Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli of Beacon Falls and Tufts Medical Cancer Center Philanthropy Officer Scott Neely pose for a photo after Verrelli recently awarded the center with a $35,000 grant, one of two grants the nonprofit organization awarded. –CONTRIBUTED

BEACON FALLS — Project Purple is picking up speed.

Project Purple, a non-profit organization focused on raising awareness about pancreatic cancer, recently awarded two $35,000 grants to further pancreatic cancer research.

The grants went to Tufts Medical Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both located in Boston, Mass.

Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli of Beacon Falls said the grants were only given out after a lot of research.

Verrelli wanted to make sure the grants went towards a program that would further the research of pancreatic cancer.

“With these research projects we want to see a return on investment,” Verrelli said. “We want to see that the money we are giving out is getting results.”

Verrellis said that Dr. Wasif Saif, director of the oncology program at Tufts, will be the overseeing the use of the $35,000 grant to Tufts.

“We’re really excited to get into it on an entry level with them. They are committed to make a pancreatic cancer center in Boston,” Verrelli said of Tufts.

Scott Neely, philanthropy officer of Tufts Medical Cancer Center, said the center is thankful for the grant.

“Tufts Medical Center is forever grateful to Project Purple for their great concern for patients with pancreatic cancer and the extraordinary generosity that accompanies that concern,” Neely said in a statement.

The grant that went to Beth Israel is being overseen by Dr. James Moser. Moser is the executive director of the Institute for Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgery at Beth Israel.

Verrelli said Moser is a leader in pancreatic cancer surgery and has advanced the field in both robotic and laparoscopic surgery.

However, the project that Moser is working on that Project Purple is funding with the grant is not a new kind of surgery, but rather a large data collection, Verrelli said.

Once the data has been collected doctors will be able to better predict how pancreatic cancer will progress, Verrelli said.

“They can tell a person what quality of life can be expected and what to expect when,” Verrelli said. “That’s one of the biggest struggles, we just don’t know enough about it.”

Verrelli said the database, once it is finished, will be a help to both medical professionals and patients.

“This will benefit the medical community, the general public, and people who are showing the symptoms of pancreatic cancer,” Verrelli said

These are the first two large grants that Project Purple has issued. Before the grants, the organization gave money to families that were struggling to make ends meet as they dealt with one member of the family who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Verrelli started Project Purple in 2010 to honor his father who was diagnosed and has since died from pancreatic cancer. In 2011, he pledged to run 13 half-marathons (13.1 miles) in 13 months to raise money for pancreatic cancer research.

While Project Purple still does help families, Verrelli said it is no longer just a Connecticut-based charity.

“The New York City Marathon was a tipping point for Project Purple. Being involved in the New York City Marathon opened doors for us,” Verrelli said.

Project Purple will also be one of the charities taking part in the Marine Corps Marathon Oct. 27 in Washington, D.C., which is the third largest marathon in the country.

Currently there are 36 runners from 14 states and two countries, the United States and Canada, running in the Marine Corps Marathon for Project Purple.

“All these people have had loved ones in their families or friends that were touched by pancreatic cancer,” Verrelli said.

Verrelli plans on Project Purple taking part in the New York City Marathon again this year.

“When we do these major events it’s amazing and humbling,” Verrelli said. “Being involved in New York has allowed us to get to the point to grant this money.”

Although there is currently no cure for pancreatic cancer and the minimally invasive surgery still has a long recovery time, Verrelli is pleased his charity is helping the medical take a step forward.

“The projects we are funding can save lives in the future,” Verrelli said.

For more information, visit www.run4projectpurple.org.