By Sara Reeve
The USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has made tremendous advances in the understanding and treatment of cancer during its four decades of existence. At the gala anniversary celebration, “40 Years of Progress – Discovering New Cures,” held on Oct. 11, USC Norris leaders, researchers and supporters came together to honor that advancement.
“This is a very special night for us. We are here to recognize 40 years of movement toward the goal that Ken Norris Jr. set: to end cancer as we know it,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, MBA, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
The celebration, which raised nearly $2 million to support cancer research at USC Norris, was held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles, and attracted 500 guests. Actor/comedian Martin Short served as master of ceremonies, captivating the audience with his witty banter and his personal connection to the cancer center.
“Like so many in this room, I am here for so many reasons,” Short said. “I am here for my wife, Nancy, my mother, Olive, my friend, Nora Ephron, and for so many of those who have left us far too early because of cancer. But in the aftermath of these terrible losses, I think we all come to realize that we are not hopeless victims. … We know that USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center has some of the most brilliant scientists, most dedicated researchers and gifted physicians on the planet.”
The event acknowledged the illustrious past of USC Norris and the tremendous advances made in the fight against cancer, hinting of an even brighter future. Past cancer center directors G. Denman Hammond, MD, Brian Henderson, MD, and Peter Jones, PhD, DSc, were recognized for their accomplishments.
Special guest James Watson, PhD, recipient of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of DNA structure, and Jones, distinguished professor of urology and biochemistry & molecular biology at the Keck School, renowned for his work in epigenetics, were applauded as “the fathers of modern genetics and modern epigenetics.”
In honor of the anniversary, two awards were inaugurated to recognize outstanding leadership. The Founder’s Award was presented to Harlyne Norris and Lisa Hansen of the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation.
“We can think of no finer recipient than the family whose name we share,” said Stephen B. Gruber, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the cancer center. “Our history could not have been written — and thousands of lives would not have been saved — without the Norris family’s passion and commitment to advancing cancer research and treatment.”
The inaugural Visionary Award was presented to USC alumnus and benefactor Ming Hsieh and his wife Eva. A self-made entrepreneur from China, Ming Hsieh is the founder of Pasadena-based Cogent, Inc. In 2010, the Hsiehs made a transformational gift to USC to establish the Ming Hsieh Institute for Engineering Medicine for Cancer.
“With remarkable insight and a deep desire to help people, the Hsiehs clearly envision the day when USC will bring science, engineering and nanotechnology together with medicine to vastly improve outcomes and eventually conquer cancer,” said Gruber.
To close out the event, Academy Award-winning singer-songwriter Randy Newman charmed the crowds.
The gala celebration was part of a larger public campaign to accelerate the strides USC Norris is making against cancer. This campaign is one component of the $1.5 billion Keck Medicine Initiative, which is part of the $6 billion Campaign for the University of Southern California.