Auburn’s fight on cancer

Interest, fundraising money goes toward research yearly
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A unique and permanent fund started by several Auburnites raises $70,000 a year for research scientists working on cures for cancer. Some local friends met for coffee in 2001 and decided they had to do something to fund cancer research. “We decided we could do something for a cancer fund, so we each put in a reasonable amount of money,” said Virgil Traynor, a cancer survivor who helped spearhead the fund. After receiving donations from several other residents, the group had raised $50,000, and by August 2001 it had raised $100,000. In October 2001, the Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund was formed to benefit the UC Davis Cancer Center, and when the group had raised $1.5 million, an endowed chair in basic science research was created at the center, according to the endowment fund’s website. An endowed chair is an employment position permanently paid for by revenue of an endowment fund. The endowed chair keeps a research scientist on staff at the cancer center while the interest made on the fund goes toward the scientist’s lab work. Hsing-Jien Kung, associate director for basic science research at the center, holds this endowed chair, and the fund’s interest goes toward work conducted by his team of scientists, according to Traynor. The residents involved in the fund chose to donate the money to the UC Davis Cancer Center because it is the only major cancer research center in the area, is known for community service and received a National Cancer Institute designation, according to the endowment fund’s website. In 2004 more than 35 residents formed a community action board for the fund. The endowment chair itself produces dividends of $70,000 a year, all of which go toward lab work at the cancer center. Traynor said the endowment fund is something that all Auburn residents can relate to and get involved with. “It stays pretty close to home and we think people are a lot less reluctant to give to something that is close to home,” Traynor said. “Everything is volunteer, so (any money we raise), (the cancer center) gets a check for it.” Traynor said the endowment fund board also takes part in various fundraisers to raise additional money for lab research in the center, and it is always interested in hearing fundraiser ideas from the Auburn community. Mamata Pochampalli is a post-doctorate research scientist benefiting directly from the endowment fund. Because of the interest raised and the additional money brought in by fundraisers, Pochampalli has been able to study the role of a specific protein in prostate cancer. “This protein is present in very high amounts, not only in prostate cancer but many other types of cancer,” Pochampalli said. “There is not other lab working on this … so (the fund’s contributions) really helped us a lot I would say.” Dr. Ralph de Vere White, the director of the cancer center, said although grant money is very important, getting a grant often means showing the awarding agency some work evidence from a specific project, so new and innovative research is not usually possible. “Where we do get the money to do truly innovative work, we get it from endowments,” de Vere White said. Pochampalli said she doesn’t think she would have had the funding to work with the specific protein if not for the endowment chair, and now that she has results from the project, it’s easier for her to get grants. De Vere White said the main benefits of the endowment chair include the research that can be done, the possible grants that can be gained as a result of the research and keeping the very best employees in the center. “The long-term payoff is one day … we will want to go out and hire the next associate director for basic science and we want to compete for the best there is,” he said. “You just make yourself more competitive (through endowment chair funding). (Another) benefit is you can employ and give employment to the brightest post-docs.” The Auburn endowment chair is unique in that it is the only endowment named for an entire community, de Vere White said. “It is, to the best of my knowledge, the only such endowment in the country,” he said. “It’s one of the most uplifting things that has happened to me since I have been director. I just think all of us are extremely grateful to all those people in Auburn who helped.” Bart O’Brien, who is the chairman of the endowment fund board, said he had a definite reason for getting involved in the project. “I think it’s important on a number of levels,” O’Brien said. “On a personal level, I have had so many family members and dear friends who have been stricken with cancer. There is a great feeling of powerlessness when someone you love suffers from cancer.” Bruce Dear, the vice chairman of the board, said he’s happy about the transparency of where the funds go. “I think what we’re proud of is every cent goes into the endowment fund, we are all volunteers,” Dear said. “The researchers are going to find a cure. There’s hope out there because they are working very hard.” Anyone who wants to suggest a fundraising idea is encouraged to call Traynor or Sherry Wicks, the board’s secretary. Reach Bridget Jones at ----------------------------------------------------- Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund What: A fund continuously raising money for research at the UC Davis Cancer Center Website: For information: Call Virgil Traynor, (530) 305-4591, Sherry Wicks, (530) 889-1401, ext. 205