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Zachary Quinto on saving tigers, Trump, and why hashtag activism is the real deal.

There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers left on Earth. Zachary Quinto thinks we should give a damn.

Zachary Quinto on saving tigers, Trump, and why hashtag activism is the real deal.
Photo by David Jensen.

Actor Zachary Quinto ("Star Trek," "Heroes," "American Horror Story") talks to Upworthy about his involvement with tiger-saving campaign #3890Tigers, Trump, breakfast cereals — and tigers again.

(This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Upworthy (UP): Why do you want to help save the tigers?

Zachary Quinto (ZQ): I’m a long-time animal lover and animal rights activist. When this opportunity came to me, I realized how much [poaching] has been affecting the wild tiger population — it was something I felt called to get involved with. There are fewer than 4,000 wild tigers left in the world, which seems absolutely insane.

UP: So judging by your passion to save the tigers, is it safe to say you’re more of a cat person than a dog person?

ZQ: That’s actually not safe to say. I’m more of a dog person than a cat person. ... Sorry to dispel any illusions.

UP: Do you own a dog?

ZQ: I own two dogs. I should say, I rescued two dogs.













dogs appropriately excited by my return.


A post shared by Zachary Quinto (@zacharyquinto) on

UP: Tiger Beer is a big component of this campaign. If you could sit down and have a beer with any famous tiger —

ZQ: Tony the Tiger.

UP: Wow, I didn’t even finish the question. And why would that be?

ZQ: Because I grew up with “Theyyyy’re great!” You know, Tony the Tiger and — what was that, Frosted Flakes, right? I loved Frosted Flakes when I was a kid. Tony the Tiger really just lodged himself in my imagination.





UP: What’s the craziest thing you’ve learned about tigers since joining this campaign?

ZQ: I would say their power and the way that they ambush, I’m fascinated by. The power of their jaws, that they can take down animals much bigger than themselves.

I would say the thing that I’m probably most moved by — as powerful as they are — they’re also really vulnerable. I feel like there’s a lot of fear associated with animals like [tigers], but they also need protection. That balance and the delicacy of that is something that I’m really interested in.

Bengal tiger cubs at the Wild Shelter Foundation in El Salvador. Photo by Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images.

UP: As the saying goes, a tiger doesn’t change its stripes —

ZQ: Isn’t it that a leopard can’t change its spots? I think you’re mixing your feline metaphors.

UP: Oh, am I?

ZQ: I won’t hold you for that. ... [laughs] I'm going with you, I'm going with you.

UP: What's the most out-of-character thing you've had to do where you’ve had to change your stripes — or your spots — for a role?

ZQ: I don’t know, I guess I would have to say skinning a woman alive? That’s pretty far away from my inherent nature.

UP: Was that for "American Horror Story"?

ZQ: [laughs] It was "American Horror Story," yeah.

UP: Speaking of "American Horror Story" — you’ve played a lot of interesting characters throughout your career. Which one do you think has the most tiger-like qualities?

ZQ: Interesting. I like to use animals to kind of inform characters that I play in exploring who they are and building a character. Never used a big cat, specifically. But I guess I would say the character I played in "Heroes" maybe had some qualities of, like — he was very stealthy, and he stalked and pounced, and had some characteristics of a tiger.

The cast and crew of NBC's "Heroes" in 2007. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images.

UP: The Russia investigation, the Senate’s health care bill — there’s a lot of news happening right now. Why should we care about tigers?

ZQ: We’re in a moment now where we can still reverse the decline, and I think that it’s a crucial moment. That’s the key for me — to inspire people and to raise awareness is a way to do that.

UP: If you could have President Trump’s ear for a minute to talk about this issue, what would you say to him?

ZQ: I feel like, I don’t even know where to begin with what I would say to him, just in general. I’d have a lot of things to say to him, I’m sure. I feel like [this campaign is] more about rallying people. It’s about inspiring a collective voice.

I think what we can do in the face of this political climate is to really engage. Partly what drew me particularly to this opportunity and initiative is that people can get involved and spread the word, and that’s what I’m more interested in — inspiring likeminded people to rise up and raise awareness and raise money.

UP: Some people say hashtag activism isn’t real activism, but this campaign has a big social media component. Would you argue that social media activism matters?

ZQ: [Online activism] has become the real world, for better or for worse. Everyone walks around with this portal in their pocket, and we check our phones I think more often than we check in with each other sometimes. So I feel like what used to be tangible and actionable in the streets has become much more virtual and digital in the last decade.

Modes of communication have really shifted within our culture, and I feel like social media has become such an inextricably tied way of expressing yourself that I think it can be really effective. With the press of a button, you can reach millions of people, and even if just a fraction of those people stand up and do something about a cause, it really makes a difference.

The #3890Tigers campaign — a partnership between Tiger Beer and the World Wildlife Fund — aims to raise awareness and funding for tiger conservation efforts around the globe. There are just 3,890 tigers left in the wild, according to the WWF; the campaign wants to double that number by 2022 — the next year of the Zodiac tiger.

To join the efforts, supporters are encouraged to delete their profile pictures to raise awareness about the disappearing wild tiger population. Over the past 100 years, human activity has killed about 96% of the species, largely due to poaching and habitat loss.

Supporters can also create a selfie celebrating tigers on the campaign website, as Quinto has done below, to share on their social feeds, as well as donate to the WWF. Tiger Beer, which has already donated $1 million toward the nonprofit, is matching new gifts up to $25,000.

Photo courtesy of Tiger Beer/World Wildlife Fund/Zachary Quinto.

Learn more about the campaign to save the tigers and take action.

Disclaimer: Upworthy does not have a business partnership with either Tiger Beer or the World Wildlife Fund and was not paid to write about the campaign. We will always be up front with you if we were.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."