The contribution deadline has been extended until Friday for the 1,026 bicyclists who participated in what looks to be the start of something big for cancer research at the University of Minnesota. Already more than $1.3 million — all of it going directly to research — has been collected from the Aug. 11-13 Chainbreaker fundraising bike ride south and east of the Twin Cities metro area.

That’s a gratifying total for Chainbreaker’s instigator and sparkplug, Twin Cities real estate developer Larry Laukka. But he says it’s just a start. Chainbreaker is modeled after the popular Pelotonia at Ohio State University, a bicycle event that has raised more than $130 million for cancer research in eight years. It took Ohio State six years to top $100 million; Laukka wants Chainbreaker to pass that milestone in five years. “I want us to beat Ohio State at something,” he said.

Chainbreaker’s participatory philanthropy is worth rooting for. It’s engaging a new generation in person-to-person fundraising at a time when public-sector support for universities has become less reliable. Participants were required to raise a minimum of $1,000 each — a sum many said they found surprisingly easy to attain. Organizers say they found it surprisingly easy to recruit riders. Many, it seems, are eager to strike a blow against the disease that ranks as Minnesota’s leading cause of death.

The first and oldest rider to sign up for a 25-mile course — and the last to cross the starting line on Aug. 12 — was 81-year-old Laukka himself. By ride day, he had new impetus: Five days earlier, he had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He finished the ride with a flourish (“It was such fun!” he said) and has been undergoing cancer treatments since then — while planning to participate in the 2018 Chainbreaker. “I have a passion for the university, and I’m quite aware of the need,” he said.

Cancer researchers seek more unrestricted gifts that can be directed to the most promising inquiries. When the books close on the first Chainbreaker, it looks likely to deliver a 13 percent boost in such gifts to the Masonic Cancer Center this year. That impressive beginning makes Chainbreaker a promising new weapon against a cruel disease.