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For 40 years, moving toward an end to cancer

by Sara Reeve
Lisa Hansen, chair of the Norris Foundation, with musician Randy Newman and USC Trustee Harlyne Norris at the 40th anniversary gala for the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)
Lisa Hansen, chair of the Norris Foundation, with musician Randy Newman and USC Trustee Harlyne Norris at the 40th anniversary gala for the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has made tremendous advances in the understanding and treatment of cancer during the four decades of its existence. At the gala anniversary celebration, “40 Years of Progress – Discovering New Cures,” held on Oct. 11, USC Norris leaders, researchers and those who support them came together to honor that advancement.

“This is a very special night for us. We are here to recognize 40 years of movement toward the goal that Ken Norris Jr. set: to end cancer as we know it,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Master of ceremonies Martin Short brings his signature comic style to the delight of the 500 guests attending the USC Norris Gala. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Master of ceremonies Martin Short brings his signature comic style to the delight of the 500 guests attending the USC Norris Gala. (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

The celebration, which raised nearly $2 million to support cancer research at USC Norris, was held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, and attracted 500 guests. Actor and comedian Martin Short served as master of ceremonies, captivating the audience not only with his witty banter, but also with his personal connection to the cancer center and its mission.

“Like so many in this room, I am here for so many reasons,” Short said. “I am here for my wife, Nancy; I’m here for my mother, Olive; I’m here for my friend, Nora Ephron; and I am here for so many of those who have left us far too early because of the horrors of cancer. But in the aftermath of these terrible losses, I think we all come to realize that we are not hopeless victims. We can stand up and fight for a cure. … We know that USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has some of the most brilliant scientists, most dedicated researchers and gifted physicians on the planet.”

The event acknowledged the illustrious past of USC Norris and the tremendous advances made in the fight against cancer, while inspiring guests with hints of an even brighter future. Past cancer center directors G. Denman Hammond, Brian Henderson and Peter Jones were recognized for their accomplishments.

Nobel laureate James Watson and USC professor Peter Jones, the “founding fathers” of genetics and epigenetics, respectively (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Nobel laureate James Watson and USC professor Peter Jones, the “founding fathers” of genetics and epigenetics, respectively (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

A special guest who joined the celebration was James Watson, who (with fellow scientist Francis Crick) received the 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine for the discovery of the structure of DNA. Watson and Peter Jones, a renowned epigenetics researcher and distinguished professor at the Keck School of Medicine, were applauded as the respective “fathers of modern genetics and modern epigenetics.”

In honor of the cancer center’s 40th anniversary, two awards were inaugurated to recognize outstanding leadership. The Founder’s Award was presented to USC Trustee Harlyne Norris and Lisa Hansen of the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation. The Norris Foundation is a not-for-profit foundation established in 1963 with a long and extensive history of philanthropic support of USC.

“We can think of no finer recipient for this new and superlative honor than the family whose name we share,” said Stephen Gruber, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We march under the USC Norris banner in our quest to make cancer a disease of the past. Our history could not have been written — and thousands of lives would not have been saved — without the Norris family’s passion and commitment to advancing cancer research and treatment.”

Harlyne Norris has been a member of the USC Board of Trustees since 2000 and is a trustee and past chair of the Norris Foundation. Her daughter, Lisa Hansen, is the current chair of the Norris Foundation.

“Cancer is a challenge, but guess what?” asked Hansen. “The USC Norris is an incredible foe. And I know that with every one of us bringing every talent we have here to offer, we will continue to be that foe. … Our family has always been so proud of USC Norris, and I want to leave you with two very important words: Fight On!”

Stephen Gruber, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, with Eva and Ming Hsieh, benefactors of the Ming Hsieh Institute for Engineering Medicine for Cancer (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

Stephen Gruber, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, with Eva and Ming Hsieh, benefactors of the Ming Hsieh Institute for Engineering Medicine for Cancer (USC Photo/Steve Cohn)

The inaugural Visionary Award was presented to benefactor Ming Hsieh ’83 MS ’84 and his wife, Eva Hsieh. A self-made entrepreneur from China, Ming Hsieh is the founder of Pasadena-based Cogent Inc. In 2010, the Hsiehs made a transformational gift to USC to establish the Ming Hsieh Institute for Engineering Medicine for Cancer.

“With remarkable insight and a deep desire to help people, they clearly envision the day when USC will bring science, engineering and nanotechnology together with medicine to vastly improve outcomes and eventually conquer cancer,” Gruber said. “Their superlative act of vision and commitment will drive the future of our cancer center as a leader in finding cures.”

The Hsieh Institute supports research and development, both at the bench and in clinical trials, in the burgeoning field of nanomedicine for cancer.

“Eva and I have made cancer a major cause for our philanthropy because it affects everyone from every walk of life, at any age,” said Ming Hsieh. “All of us all know someone who is fighting or has fought cancer. Many are survivors, but too many are not. They remain in our memories and are recorded in statistics of a disease that continues to plague us. Eva and I think that cancer is curable, and we see great hope in continued breakthroughs in research and treatment.”

To close out the inspirational event, Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter and 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Randy Newman charmed the crowds with three songs: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” “Political Science,” and finally, “I Love L.A.”

The gala celebration was part of a larger public campaign to accelerate the strides USC Norris is making against cancer. This campaign is one component of the $1.5 billion Keck Medicine Initiative, which is part of the $6 billion Campaign for the University of Southern California.

For more information on how to support the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, call (323) 865-0700.

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