A longtime, dedicated supporter of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University (Winship) is making a $1 million pledge to support innovative breast cancer research at Winship.
Brenda Nease, breast cancer survivor and active member of the Winship Advisory Board, is expanding her on-going commitment to Winship with this new pledge. In 2014, Nease gifted Winship $1 million to create the Brenda Nease Breast Cancer Research Fund within the Glenn Family Breast Center at Winship. That fund has been supporting projects that touch all areas of breast cancer research, including prevention, early detection, clinical trials, and improving the efficacy of existing treatments.
This new $1 million pledge will support two specific areas of Winship research: one is a potentially groundbreaking research project focused on uncovering new pathways to understand breast cancer metastasis; the other is Winship's ever-broadening portfolio of breast cancer-focused clinical trials.
Brenda Nease says she is motivated to keep cancer research thriving despite COVID-19. "Breast cancer has not stopped in the midst of the pandemic. I hope this gift serves as both a resource and an encouragement to our Winship researchers as they carry forward their critical work during this unprecedented time," says Nease.
The first project is led by Adam Marcus, PhD, associate director for basic research and shared resources at Winship and professor of hematology and medical oncology in the Emory School of Medicine, whose lab developed and has filed a patent for a new technology for isolating the rare cancer cells that are a major cause of breast cancer metastasis. The three-year project will receive $500,000 to study these rare cancer cells that likely play a significant role in why some patients develop metastatic cancer. Marcus says current treatments that are based upon mutations in a patient’s tumor can unwittingly miss the mutations in these rare cancer cells.
"We are grateful to Mrs. Nease for her generous support for our work. We believe our comprehensive approach will unmask a hidden population of cells and reveal new concepts for treating patients that will potentially impact the breast cancer research community," says Marcus.
Another $500,000 of the pledge will provide reliable funding to support clinical trials that are critical to advancing new treatments in breast cancer. The physician scientists within the Glenn Family Breast Center partner closely with the Winship Clinical Trials Office to offer a portfolio of clinical trials focused on breast cancer. As Georgia's National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Winship is the flagship center in Georgia for offering cancer clinical trials. The new pledge will support Winship's mission to open trials quickly to offer novel treatments to patients, advance the science and technology developed at Emory, and conduct trials in a safe, welcoming environment.
"With one in eight women in the United States facing a breast cancer diagnosis, breast cancer research funding could not be more critical," says Winship Executive Director Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD, the Lawrence W. Davis Chair in Radiation Oncology and the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Chair in Cancer Research. "I am deeply appreciative of Brenda's support, as well her philanthropic leadership for our research mission during this unprecedented time of the pandemic. Brenda's optimism and encouragement inspires all of us."
Nease was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. Following her treatment and remission, she joined the Winship Advisory Board and became a steadfast advocate for Winship in the community. In addition to her support for breast cancer research, Nease has supported a diverse range of projects at Winship with the goal of creating a more positive environment for patients. She stewarded the purchase of a baby grand piano for the lobby of the Winship building on the Clifton campus, which established a volunteer music program enabling Nease and fellow volunteers to fill the waiting area with music. In 2016, Winship's Purdom Chapel renovation was supported by the Brenda Nease Fund in memory of Brenda and Mac Nease’s son, Lawton MacDonald Nease IV, who passed away from cancer in 1994.
"Brenda's compassion for those who face a cancer diagnosis is recognized by all at Winship. We are profoundly grateful for her volunteerism, leadership, and philanthropic partnership," says Curran.
Nease says she wants to continue helping enhance the lives of cancer patients and their families. "This gift is not about me. It's about the people who will benefit. It's about the desire to help others in the same situation I was in after my diagnosis. If I can improve any part of this experience for patients - that is my calling."