Men Raising ‘Mo’ Money for Cancer Research

Yale postdoctoral fellow Nicholas Aberle intends to get pretty hairy during November — and he’s encouraging others to do the same.

In his native Australia, November is the month when many clean-shaven males grow a moustache as part of an annual fundraising drive to benefit men’s health. Participants rely on the support of friends, family members and others, who sponsor their “Mo” (Australian slang for moustache, hence the effort’s name: Movember) in the same way that they might sponsor a five-mile charity run. All of the proceeds benefit charitable organizations concerned with men’s health.

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Yale men who’ve already committed to growing a “Mo” to raise funds for men’s prostate research include, from left: Peter Garreiss, Nicholas Aberle — who brought the annual Australian tradition to Yale this year — Pat McEnaney and Mike Salcius. Although the moustaches drawn digitally here are imaginary, the men’s commitment to supporting cancer research is very real.

The fundraising initiative has taken root in other countries, with men in the United States participating for the first time in 2007, when they raised $740,568 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF). Aberle, who works in the laboratory of Yale scientist Craig Crews, has enlisted a handful of colleagues on Science Hill in the cause, and he hopes that even more Yale men will join in. The Yale team is called “The Handsome Dans,” and any monies it raises will go directly to the PCF.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States. One in six men will develop the disease, which kills more than 28,000 people every year. The disease is 90% curable if detected early.

“Men lack awareness about the very real health issues they face,” Movember organizers say on their website. “Many feel they have to be tough - ‘a real man’ - and are reluctant to see a doctor about an illness or to go for regular medical check ups. The aim of Movember is to change these attitudes and make men’s health fun by putting the Mo back on the face of American men while raising some serious funds for the number-one men’s health issue, prostate cancer.”

The Yale Bulletin & Calendar recently spoke with Aberle about his involvement in the cause. Here is what we learned.

Movember first: This is Aberle’s first year participating in Movember. He was hesitant to join in the cause last year, when he was new to campus. Now, he’s convinced he can drum up some support.

“My wife, Stephanie, is a student at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where a bunch of guys recently organized a beard contest,” says Aberle. “So I know that there are enough people here who like to grow facial hair. Also, since I’m away from home and from the people I normally see, it’s safe for me to walk around with a bad moustache.”

In fact, this will be the first time in his life that he purposefully grows facial hair, he says.

Handsome Dans: Movember participants must begin their Movember campaign completely clean-shaven.

“You do have to look like an idiot for a few weeks,” acknowledges Aberle. “And, of course, wives and girlfriends have to deal with it as well.”

Peter Garreiss, also a postdoctoral researcher in Crews’ lab, says he’s decided to grow a “Mo” because “it’s a lot more fun than a walk-a-thon.”

Pat McEnaney, a graduate student in chemistry, felt compelled to participate because he works in a lab that is engaged in cancer research (assistant professor David Spiegel’s organic chemistry laboratory). He just recently shed his facial hair so he can grow his Mo, and is offering to extend his facial hair-growing past November as a “reward” to generous sponsors.

Mike Salcius, a biotechnology associate in the Chemical Genomic Screening Center, jokes that he’s joining in because of peer pressure, but quickly adds, “It’s easy to do, it’s a good cause, and it’s fun to do it with friends.”

Before November had even started, the Handsome Dans had raised more than $500 from sponsors of their soon-to-be moustaches.

“There’s one girl in Australia who said that she would not send me any money until she could actually see my moustache,” Aberle comments, adding that he is just fine with that arrangement.

Hopes for the future: Aberle doesn’t know anyone who has had prostate cancer, but at Yale, he is investigating the use of small molecules in the study of biological processes, specifically in how they can control proteins. He hopes his work will ultimately improve cancer treatments.

“A lot of good projects don’t get off the ground because of a lack of funding,” the postdoctoral fellow says. “When you see how many men die of prostate cancer, it’s clear that raising money for research is definitely a worthy cause.”

With or without the Mo: Aberle is a member of an intramural soccer team at Yale (“the reigning champs,” he notes) and also enjoys rock climbing. He doesn’t expect his moustache to interfere with these activities.

Mo money: Aberle hopes The Handsome Dans can be one of the biggest contributors to the U.S. Movember campaign, and that the drive will eventually earn as much attention in this country as it does “down under.”

“It’s all a bit of a laugh, but it’s good fun and all for a great cause,” he says.

Any Yale male — student, staff or faculty — is welcome to join the Handsome Dans. Sponsors may donate any amount to the cause. Donations are accepted throughout the month of November. To join the team, go to the website http://us.movember.com/us/register and use Aberle’s Captain I.D. (1462356).

To donate to Aberle’s “Mo,” visit www.movember.com/us/donate and key in Aberle’s Captain I.D. Individuals can also donate to the entire team (the amount will be split between team members). Sponsors can also write a check payable to the Prostate Cancer Foundation referencing Aberle’s I.D. Checks can be mailed to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Attn: Movember, 1250 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Donations are tax deduc­tible. For further information, e-mail nicholas.aberle@yale.edu.

— By Susan Gonzalez

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