Houston Philanthropist, Art Collector Gives M. D. Anderson Its Largest Private Research Gift
Houston Philanthropist, Art Collector Gives M. D. Anderson
The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has received a $25 million gift - the largest private donation to fund cancer research in the institution’s history - from the estate of the late Houston philanthropist Caroline Wiess Law.
The gift from the internationally renowned art collector who loved architecture and music will benefit two major research initiatives in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences at M. D. Anderson.
“This gift is a sign of the bond between Caroline Law and M. D. Anderson, a symbol of great trust in this institution,” said Bernard Levin, M.D., vice president of cancer prevention at M. D. Anderson. “Ms. Law was a discerning and gracious individual who appreciated quality, beauty and culture, but who also knew the value of taking risks and exploring new ideas.”
“Caroline Wiess Law’s gift is one of great vision as well as generosity,” said John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of M. D. Anderson. “This is an extraordinary gift that will seed research for which we have a clear vision, as well as studies that have not yet been imagined. It will accelerate efforts to develop new strategies and tests to prevent or detect cancer at its earliest stage, research that is vital to our mission to eliminate cancer.”
One of the initiatives, led by Levin, a leading expert in colorectal cancer screening, early detection and treatment, will explore novel molecular techniques for the prevention and early detection of colorectal adenomatous polyps and cancer. According to Levin, the gift will fund research that could ultimately lead to novel tests to detect the earliest molecular changes in the colon long before symptoms appear as well as molecularly targeted chemoprevention.
Levin reports that when colorectal cancers are detected at an early, localized stage, the five-year survival rate is about 90%. However, only 38% of colorectal cancers are discovered at that early stage. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer.
The gift also will fund a high-priority, multidisciplinary research program aimed at taking cancer prevention into a new era of science, said Levin. The program will weave emerging approaches such as bio-behavioral science, molecular epidemiology and the study of health disparities with more established research areas of epidemiology, behavioral science, clinical cancer prevention and basic science. A part of these funds will be used to enhance M. D. Anderson’s Mexican-American Cohort Study in which investigators from several departments are studying social, genetic and environmental factors in the development of cancer, obesity and other serious outcomes.
While many of the projects to be included in the multidisciplinary program are yet to be established, Levin said they likely would span proteomics, vaccine development, genetics, biology of the brain, tobacco cessation and technology development.
“Ms. Law’s gift will enable important research projects to get off the ground with all-important seed money,” said Levin. “Pilot research programs need private money to get started and enable early data collection as well as take some risks in acquiring new information. After a researcher generates preliminary data from a project, it is much easier to get funding from outside sources. That is one of the many beauties of private funding: seed money that brings a fresh, but unproven idea, to fruition.”
In addition to the $25 million gift from the estate of Caroline Wiess Law, the Wiess family has a history of generosity to M. D. Anderson.
The Olga Keith Wiess Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research is held by Margaret R. Spitz, M.D., professor and chair of epidemiology. The Harry Carothers Wiess Chair for Cancer Research is held by Robert C. Bast, Jr., M.D., vice president for translational research. Gordon Mills, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Therapeutics, holds the Olga Keith and Harry Carothers Wiess Chair for Cancer Research.
M. D. Anderson’s development office has been raising money for research at a record-breaking pace for the last four years. In 2000, with a fund-raising goal of $60 million, $86.9 million was raised and in 2001, with another goal of $60 million, $95 million was generated. In 2002, $106.67 million was raised against a $66 million goal and in 2003, $97.9 million was generated against a $73 million goal. The goal for 2004 is $80 million with more than $55 million raised halfway into the fiscal year.
In 2003, 59% of philanthropic dollars were dedicated to research while 41% was directed to patient care, education and prevention programs and other institutional needs.