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Mulvas fund lifesaving melanoma research

Conference center named in couple’s honor

Promise - Spring 2013

By Miriam Smith

Jim and Miriam Mulva with MD Anderson President Ronald DePinho, M.D., right, celebrate the dedication of the conference center named in honor of their $5 million donation to melanoma research. DePinho presents the Mulvas with a piece of Georga pink Etowah marble from MD Anderson's original façade as a token of his appreciation. Photo by Barry SmithMiriam and Jim Mulva’s recent $5 million gift to melanoma research at MD Anderson is saving lives. At a January dedication ceremony naming the Miriam and Jim Mulva Conference Center in their honor, the room reflected advances in research and patient care through donors, researchers and a patient whose life was saved through those resources.

Miriam says this cause simply “found them” after their son, Jonathan, was diagnosed with melanoma five years ago.

“When this happened to our son, we said, ‘This is our project,’” she recalls. “Jonathan was fortunate because the melanoma hadn’t spread, and now he’s doing great.”

The Mulvas’ funding supports Patrick Hwu, M.D., chair of the Department of Melanoma Medical Oncology; Elizabeth Grimm, M.D., Ph.D., professor, departments of Experimental Therapeutics and Melanoma Medical Oncology; and Jeff E. Lee, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgical Oncology and co-director of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Research Program.

Trey Rood, of Atlanta, had a much more complicated prognosis. He came to MD Anderson nearly four years ago with stage IV melanoma that had spread to his lungs and brain. Standard therapies were not working, so Hwu put some of his latest research to work — a combination of T cells and dendritic cells that, before Trey’s procedure, had been used mostly in mice.

“Trey was one of the first patients in the world to get this combination,” Hwu says. “Miriam and Jim’s gift has helped us tremendously to bring concepts to patients and give therapies that really save lives.”

Trey is in his third year at the University of Georgia with a lifetime ahead of him.

“There were times I didn’t know if I could go to college,” Rood says. “The Mulvas’ donation made it possible for me to be here today. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Meeting Trey and seeing the impact of their donation hits close to home for the Mulvas.

“MD Anderson is a big organization,” says Jim Mulva, who is vice chair of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors. “But when you see Trey and his mother, you see how personal it is and how committed everyone is to what they’re doing. It’s really inspiring.”

Hwu believes private philanthropy such as the Mulvas’ will make the road to curing cancer much shorter.

“If we work hard as a team as we are now, we at MD Anderson feel we can accomplish this mission for many cancers in the next five to 10 years,” he says.

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center