University Cancer Center receives donation boost

Brad Unangst

The University Cancer Center’s half century of groundbreaking research received a boost from a local auto glass company Oct. 1.

Apogee Enterprises, owner of Harmon Autoglass, upped its 1999 donation of $500,000 to $1 million this year, allowing the Cancer Center to create an endowed chair. The position will continue to research the spread of leukemia and other forms of cancer.

“I think the reason we’re interested in this is it has become apparent that many types of cancer are influenced in the micro-environment of where (cancer) begins,” said Dr. Tucker Lebien, a University professor and Cancer Center member.

Lebien is the recipient of the endowed chair position and will lead the research.

The work done with the endowment funds will build upon some of Lebien’s and other cancer center researcher’s previous findings.

“We think the early stages helps the cancer grow,” Lebien said.

He said he will be looking for what changes occur in cancer that allow the disease to transform from something dependent on the human body for survival to a growth existing independently.

Disrupting the disease’s ability to make this transformation is the goal of the research, Lebien said.

Apogee and its subsidiaries have supported the search for a cancer cure for the past three decades.

“The company got involved with cancer research about 30 years ago when retired chairman and CEO Don Goldfus was instrumental in forming a task force for leukemia research,” said Mary Ann Jackson, director of corporate communications.

Jackson said Goldfus’ close friend’s son was diagnosed with leukemia, prompting Goldfus to take action.

She also said more than 200 Apogee employees and their family members have been diagnosed with cancer in the past three and a half years, creating about $2 million in medical bills.

Jackson said these experiences prompted Apogee to increase its donation.

Past successes

The Cancer Center has made multiple advances in researching cancer treatments for the past four decades.

The center contributed to increasing the rate of survival for childhood cancer patients from 30 percent to 70 percent. In 1968, it performed the first successful blood and marrow transplant.

In 1964, the center was part of the landmark surgeon general’s report on smoking hazards.

Cancer Center-affiliated Fairview-University Medical Center was previously rated 30th out of 1,700 hospitals providing cancer care.

Lebien has been with the center since 1980. He was one of the first in the world to make monoclonal antibodies, which are used to treat leukemia.

Since 1971, when Goldfus began raising money for research, his task force has donated $4 million to the Cancer Center.

Because of the advancements made with the $4 million, the center has garnered an additional $20 million to $25 million in funding from outside sources, Jackson said.

In addition to Apogee’s contributions, Harmon Autoglass sponsors a series of Race for the Cure events to raise money for cancer research.