The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center served as host for the recent annual board meeting of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, a leading nonprofit funder of cancer research founded by NCAA-winning Coach Jim Valvano, who died in 1993 from cancer.
New board officers were elected at the meeting, held in early February and chaired by Susan Braun, the foundation’s new CEO.
Composer David Barrett honored the foundation’s board members with performances of “One Shining Moment” (on piano) and “The Grateful Life” (on guitar).
Before the performance, Stephen Gruber, director of the Norris cancer center, welcomed the board members to the Health Sciences Campus.
“Our investigators represent the many other scientists across the United States who have benefited from The V Foundation’s support, and we wanted to honor you in a special way,” he said. “Thank you for your work for generations of patients, to help us work toward a life free from cancer.”
Afterward, foundation board members and USC Norris researchers attended a lunch at which Keck School of Medicine of USC researchers made brief presentations explaining how previous grants from The V Foundation have helped shape their work:
• Christina Curtis, assistant professor of preventive medicine, spoke on her research tracing individual cells, evolutionary cancer dynamics and resistant cells.
• Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine, described her work in helping patients fast to protect against chemotherapy toxicity and shared information on the phase I trial she has already completed.
• Parkash Gill, professor of medicine, talked about his team’s work creating drugs to affect the KRAS gene. (Mutation of this gene is an essential step in the development of many types of cancer.)
• Nora Heisterkamp, professor of pediatrics pathology, spoke on drug resistance in leukemia and how her work intersects with other research. “I’m a basic researcher. My perspective is different,” she said. “With these grants, we can put our heads together to come up with solutions that are more translatable.”
• Robert Ladner, assistant professor of research pathology, spoke about 5-FU chemotherapy drugs and how The V Foundation’s grant provided his team with a start to their translational research.
• Ebrahim Zandi, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, talked about proteomics and cell signaling. “This type of grant really helps you to start your program in independent research,” he said.
• Wu Zhang, a research associate at the cancer center, discussed chromatin remodeling in cancer cells, noting that grant was a catalyst for receiving support from other sources.
Nick Valvano, Jim Valvano’s brother, The V Foundation board member and president emeritus, noted that meeting and speaking with the researchers helps board members see a more personal approach to helping diagnose and treat cancer.
“You put a face on cancer research,” he said. “We need a reason to hope, and when we see your passion and dedication, it reminds us why we raise money for research.”
Added Gruber: “The V Foundation’s presence here at USC Norris is a recognition of the meaningful investment we’ve made to making cancer a disease of the past — not just financially but also scientifically.
“It’s truly a privilege to have the foundation here transferring their leadership while we at the cancer center celebrate our 40th anniversary this year.”