Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University (Winship) has received a $1.5 million gift from longtime volunteer and philanthropist Brenda Nease to establish the David H. Lawson Professorship in Cancer Research in honor of one of Winship's most eminent physicians. The Lawson Professorship will support an outstanding expert in cancer research, with the inaugural holder focusing on innovative work in the field of cancer immunology.
An oncologist and professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine, Lawson has spent more than four decades engaged in cancer care and research at Winship. In recent years, he has focused on treating melanoma and other skin cancers. Lawson's research has centered on the immune system's role in cancer.
Lawson treated Nease when she was diagnosed with breast cancer more than 20 years ago, and the two formed a lasting bond.
"I would count Dr. Lawson as one of my dearest friends. He saved my life," says Nease, a lifetime member of Winship's advisory board. "I hope future holders of the Lawson professorship will be encouraged by Dr. Lawson's example of compassion and commitment to research that makes a difference for those faced with a cancer diagnosis."
"We are immensely thankful to Brenda Nease for her generosity; David Lawson is a leader, mentor, researcher and, above all, an exceptional physician," says Suresh Ramalingam, MD, Winship's Executive Director and Roberto C. Goizueta Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research. "Brenda's decision to establish an endowed professorship in his name could not be a more special way to honor his impact on patient care and research."
"Professorships are critical to our ability to recruit and retain top-notch researchers and are held by faculty most likely to have a profound impact on advancing new knowledge," Ramalingam continues. "This is an exceptional gift that will have lasting impact at Winship."
Lawson says he was drawn to oncology because caring for patients navigating a cancer diagnosis left an enduring impression.
"It is walking a road with them that's a hard road to walk. That does give you a relationship that's not like many others," Lawson says.
"There's a saying that the secret to the care of the patient is in caring for the patient," Lawson says. "Letting the patients into your heart is a lot of it. It's important for patients to feel heard and cared about. I've tried to do that."
Lawson is a Georgia native, born in Athens and raised in Perry. He received his undergraduate degree at Duke University then attended Emory University School of Medicine, eventually joining the faculty. Throughout his career, he has cared for thousands of patients, mentored and inspired countless physicians new to the oncology field, and has been a leader in moving forward translational cancer research.
"David has been a role model for so many of our faculty over the years," says Sagar Lonial, MD, chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory School of Medicine, Winship's chief medical officer, and Anne and Bernard Gray Family Chair in Cancer. "His total commitment to patient care and improving outcomes while always providing compassionate and committed holistic care for a patient is such an example for all our faculty."
"The honor of a professorship in his name is a perfect way to celebrate his contributions over the years, and to recognize his unfailing passion and commitment to the cancer patient," Lonial adds.
A steadfast advocate for Winship following her own treatment and remission, Nease, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, has provided impactful support in all areas of breast cancer research, including prevention, early detection, clinical trials, breast cancer metastasis, and improving the efficacy of existing treatments.
She has also focused on creating a more positive environment for cancer patients. Nease stewarded the purchase of a baby grand piano for the lobby of the Winship building on the Clifton campus and helping to establish a popular community volunteer music program. Over the years, Lawson has been among those at Winship who have joined Nease for piano singalongs.
In 2016, Nease funded the renovation of Winship's Purdom Chapel in memory of her son, Lawton McDonald Nease IV, who passed away from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1994, and is also supporting the 2022 Purdom Chapel move and renovation.
"So much of what Mrs. Nease has done is to try to make this a place of healing, not just a place where you go to get your chemo and go home, but a place where there can be some healing of the soul and spirit," Lawson says.
For Nease, Lawson's care has been a vital part of her healing.
"I am one of the lucky ones. I'm very fortunate to be here," she says. "When you are diagnosed with cancer… for me, it was like being in a different place with the rest of the world still going by, but my world had changed."
"Dr. Lawson has always been available for my questions, and has always been compassionate and encouraging," Nease adds. "Through this professorship, it is my hope to celebrate how much of a difference Dr. Lawson has made in my life and, I'm sure, countless others."