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$1 Million Gift to M. D. Anderson Helps Establish Immunology Center

$1 Million Gift to M. D. Anderson Helps Establish Immunology Center
Cincinnati-based foundation provides funds for growing area of research
M. D. Anderson News Release 12/08/03

The Farmer Family Foundation of Cincinnati has given $1 million to The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to establish the Center for Cancer Immunology Research (CCIR).

The center’s research will focus on how immune system cells interact with each other. Scientists are devising methods to manipulate these circuits to target tumor-specific antigens.

“The major function of the immune system is to fight infections, but it has not evolved to kill cancer cells. With intervention, we can trick the immune system to fight cancer cells by teaching it to see tumors as it sees bacterial infections,” says Yong-Jun Liu, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Immunology and director of CCIR.

The Farmer Family Foundation was established by Richard Farmer, chairman of Cintas Corporation, a major supplier of corporate identity uniforms, and his wife Joyce.

“My family has a high regard for M. D. Anderson. We are familiar with the institution’s level of care and world-renowned research efforts,” says Richard Farmer. “We want to see the elimination of cancer because we recognize that it touches everyone in one way or another, and we want to do what we can to help eradicate it.”

“We are excited to receive this gift because it will help us build this unique program — a
multi-disciplinary, multi-department/laboratory program which will integrate both clinical and basic immunology research,” Liu says. “It’s rare to have a collaboration of clinical and basic science in immunology, but we have integrated faculty from departments such as leukemia/lymphoma and melanoma to work together sharing research and ideas, and we are very enthusiastic about the results.”

The center will be initially composed of four basic immunology and four clinical immunology core research programs: 

  • The study of innate and adaptive receptors on cells to distinguish normal cells from bacteria and viruses.
  • How dendritic cells capture and process bacterial, viral and tumor antigens, as well as the activation of dendritic cells to present tumor antigens in the same way they present bacterial and viral antigens to the immune system. 
  •  T-cell (a small lymphocyte which orchestrates the immune system's response to infected or malignant cells) biology: how they multiply and differentiate into tumor—killer cells, and how they develop immunological memory to tumor cells to prevent tumor relapse.
  • The biology of the formation of blood or blood cells as it relates to stem cells.

The knowledge obtained from these basic immunology programs will directly translate into four clinical immunology programs:

  • Vaccine development to treat leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.
  • Vaccine development to treat melanoma and other solid tumors.
  • Vaccine development to treat viral infectious diseases and viral-associated cancers.
  • Immunotherapy to treat graft-versus-host diseases associated with bone marrow and blood transplantation.

“The center’s main goal is to provide new and better therapies to the patient, and in order to ensure that happens, we must recruit top talent and establish cutting-edge technology. We want to be world leaders in the field of immunology and cancer immunology, and, because this is a new center, this gift will have a profound impact on its infrastructure and on the future of cancer research,” says Liu.

In addition to their recent gift of $1 million, the Farmer Family Foundation has given a total of $200,000 to the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research since 1999.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center