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Fighting Cancer One Gift at a Time

A former competitive cyclist, Jim Kennedy understands what it takes to conquer a tough hill. In the world of medical research, finding a cure for cancer is among the toughest. That’s why Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises, and his wife, Sarah Kennedy, have given $4.7 million to Winship Cancer Institute. In addition to supporting the recruitment of researchers like Keith Delman (pictured above) and the development of Winship’s survivorship program, the gift funds key research priorities, including helping young cancer investigators develop new and potentially groundbreaking ideas that ordinarily would not meet federal funding guidelines.

Inspired by the hope of finding a cure for cancer, private donors gave more than $142 million to support cancer research, treatment, and care at Emory. Going forward, top priorities for Winship include recruiting and retaining researchers through endowed chairs and professorships and establishing and supporting research programs.

“We very much appreciate the Kennedy family's outstanding commitment to supporting cancer research here at Winship," says Walter J. Curran Jr., executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute. “We have further demonstrated the value and importance of this gift through support of these terrific cancer researchers.”

The Kennedy Seed Grant Research Awards are presented to cancer research faculty through three programs designed to support innovative projects, encourage career growth, and foster greater collaboration among investigators. Recipients of the career growth grants are called Robbins Scholars, named in honor of the Kennedys’ friend Jim Robbins, former president and CEO of Cox Communications. Awardees, working alongside a senior cancer researcher, receive $50,000 for up to two years to support high-impact cancer research. Robbins passed away in 2007 after a bout with cancer. He was known for his belief in new ideas and is remembered for his vision and his dedication to employees, customers, and the communities that Cox Communications serves. The Robbins Scholar Awards will carry on his legacy of innovation in the service of others.

“The Kennedy Seed Grant supported our collaboration with Emory’s world-renowned transplant and immunology group, enabling us to develop a program to monitor melanoma patients’ blood over time. We aim to identify traits that may predict recurrence, relapse, or response to therapy,” says Keith Delman, associate professor of surgery and program director of Emory’s General Surgery Residency Program. “Using the existing comprehensive registry of more than 2,000 melanoma patients and the information we are gathering, we hope to develop personalized therapies for patients with this complex disease."

Delman received a Kennedy Seed Grant Research Award to fund a collaborative project, “Analysis of Immune Phenotype and Functionality with Correlation to Survival in Patients with Malignant Melanoma.” He is investigating the function and characteristics of T-lymphocytes—a kind of white blood cell—in patients with melanoma by comparing T-cells in patients with recurring disease to those in patients in remission.

Brian Pollack, assistant professor of dermatology and pathology/laboratory medicine, also received a grant to fund his project, “Defining the Impact of Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Signaling on the Expression of MHC Class II Genes.” Pollack discovered that “driver” mutations support tumor growth and allow tumor cells to escape detection and destruction by the immune system. He is investigating whether targeted therapies can undo the latter effect and, in essence, make cancer cells visible and therefore subject to the immune system.

The Kennedy gift will help attract the best and brightest researchers and will provide seed grants to help those investigators develop their ideas. This gift, along with many others, enables a positive cycle of recruitment, research, and funding. Grateful patients and friends are creating named programs, centers, and chairs to honor loved ones and support the fight against cancer.

The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation has generously supported breast cancer research and other projects at Winship. Their total gift of $14 million to the breast cancer program established the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship to support research priorities, faculty recruitment and retention, clinical and patient support programs, and the Glenn Scholars pilot grant program. The foundation also endowed the Louisa and Rand Glenn Family Chair in Breast Cancer Research, held by Ruth O’Regan. With the Glenn Family Foundation’s support, researchers successfully launched a breast cancer biospecimen bank and a new data management system, which integrates patients’ demographics, disease stage, and treatment data with their banked biospecimens. The Glenn family has enabled Winship to create a breast center that defines a high standard for coordination between basic and translational research and compassionate and innovative breast cancer care.

The Cooper Family Foundation has established a breast cancer initiative within the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship, building on a series of studies funded by the foundation over the past six years focused on understanding the long-term consequences of breast cancer and its therapies. William P. Timmie Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Andrew Miller and radiation oncologist Mylin Torres lead the Cooper Family Foundation Breast Cancer Initiative. Problems including long-standing anxiety, irritability, depression, fatigue, sleep difficulties, and difficulties with memory and concentration occur in up to one-third of breast cancer survivors and significantly impair quality of life. Already the initiative has led to important discoveries about where in the brain these problems occur and how activation of the body’s immune system plays a critical role.

“Dr. Miller’s research findings offer great hope that this area of research will lead to meaningful improvements in the quality of life of breast cancer patients. My family and I are pleased with the work Emory is doing in this vital area,” says foundation chair Fred Cooper.

In the area of head and neck cancers, Lynne and Howard Halpern have made a $2.5 million planned gift to recognize one of the country’s most accomplished researchers and support the development of new therapies for these challenging cancers. The Lynne and Howard Halpern Chair in Head and Neck Cancer Research honors Fadlo R. Khuri and recognizes his role as deputy director of Winship and his leadership of the head and neck cancer program. Howard Halpern’s successful treatment for cancer at Winship inspired this generous commitment.

“Dr. Khuri and his team saved my life,” Halpern says about his beloved physician and friend. “Lynne and I can hardly express the depth of our gratitude for the extraordinary care we received at Winship. Our hope is that the gift of an endowed academic chair to support Dr. Khuri’s vital work will result in discoveries that save many more lives from head and neck cancers.”

For prostate cancer, Winship Advisory Board chair John Kauffman, chair and CEO of Kauffman Tire, has made a $500,000 gift through his family’s foundation to support multidisciplinary research at Winship.

Along with these and many other investments in cancer at Emory, grateful patients and friends are creating new professorships, funding key research, and supporting patient-centered and clinical programs.

To learn how you can support the fight against cancer at Emory, call Vicki Riedel, executive director of development, at 404.778.5939.