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USC trustee’s gift launches new center to target cancer

Perkins_Robertby Robert Perkins
Daniel M. Tsai was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in April 2012.
Daniel M. Tsai was elected to the USC Board of Trustees in April 2012.

Businessman and USC Trustee Daniel M. Tsai has made a $1.5 million gift to the USC School of Pharmacy to create a binational research center focused on one of the most promising new leads in the fight against cancer.

The gift establishes the USC Daniel Tsai Fund for Translational Research in Pharmacy, which will support the new center based jointly at USC and in Taiwan. Center researchers will explore the development of pharmaceuticals to target monoamine oxidase (MAO), a key enzyme that regulates brain function and may be linked to cancer risk. In recognition of Tsai’s gift, a laboratory in the John Stauffer Pharmaceutical Sciences Center on USC’s Health Sciences Campus will be named the Daniel Tsai Laboratory for Translational Research.

MAO plays a vital role in the deactivation of neurotransmitters, and too much or too little may be responsible for neurological disorders, which is why MAO inhibitors have long been used as antidepressants. Recent studies, however, show that MAO inhibitors also have the potential to hinder the development of cancer — and this is the focus of the new research center.

Tsai is chairman of Fubon Financial, the leading financial group in Taiwan. It is the largest, most comprehensive and most profitable financial holding company in that country. He was elected to the USC Board of Trustees last April and has been an active supporter of USC’s outreach in Asia. In addition, Tsai served as a featured speaker at the university’s 2009 Global Conference in Taipei. His gift is part of The Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort to secure $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC’s academic priorities and expand the university’s positive impact on the community and world.

“The ability to accelerate the time between scientific discovery and new patient therapies is a core focus of USC’s medical enterprise,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “With his generous gift, Daniel Tsai affirms his confidence in our ability to do so. We are grateful for his vision and his commitment to developing life-saving treatments for patients around the world.”

Led by USC University Professor Jean Chen Shih — a globally recognized expert in monoamine signaling — the new translational research center will be based at the School of Pharmacy. The center will leverage USC’s internationally renowned research facilities, multiple core laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment suites to develop a strategic relationship with Taiwan, one that involves the exchange of trainees, research findings and expertise.

“The USC School of Pharmacy is deeply honored by this gift from Daniel Tsai,” said Dean R. Pete Vanderveen. “Dr. Shih is world renowned for her work on MAO genes, and Mr. Tsai’s  generous support will further the translational promise of that work to benefit human health.”

Shih added: “The Daniel Tsai Fund for Translational Research will enhance our USC-Taiwan collaborations. And it will move us closer to new therapeutics for cancer and autism that target the MAO genes, while training a new generation of scientists in translation research.”

Fellows at the new center will spend up to two years training in the School of Pharmacy’s laboratories. This unique opportunity for international colleagues to collaborate in advanced research using cutting-edge techniques promises to accelerate the translation of scientific discovery into the next generation of cancer therapeutics.

“I believe international collaborations between expert researchers are one of the keys to developing new ways to treat disease,” Tsai said. “I am proud to support USC and, in particular, the work of Dr. Shih to ensure these collaborations take place.”

Tsai graduated from National Taiwan University in 1978 and received his master’s degree in law from Georgetown University in 1979. His wife, Irene, earned a master’s degree from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 1985, and three of the couple’s four children are currently enrolled at USC.

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