A retired executive who suffered the loss of three family members to cancer has made a donation of $4 million to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Over the past decade, Alice Lehman watched her sister, husband and father succumb to the insidious effects of a disease that claims over 7 million lives each year.

Her losses are considerable, but recent clinical trials of a powerful treatment called cellular immunotherapy have given her hope for patients with metastatic cancer.

“I was so excited when I learned that UNC Lineberger was on the cutting edge of this emerging technology and that they were planning clinical trials,” she relayed.

Cellular immunotherapy attempts to solve the problem of the human immune system failing to recognize and destroy cancer cells before they spread throughout the body.

By extracting immune cells from patients and infusing them with coded instructions, researchers have found that those cells can be used to put cancer into remission.

The treatment is so effective that it saved the life of Ian Dale, a 60-year-old man who was expected by physicians to die last year from anaplastic large-cell lymphoma.

Those results compelled Lehman, a former vice president at Wells Fargo, to provide financial support for additional research being overseen by Dr. Norman Sharpless.

“Cellular immunotherapies hold tremendous promise to change the landscape of cancer care […] we are very grateful to Alice for helping us fulfill that promise,” stated Sharpless.

With Lehman’s gift, the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center will continue with cellular immunotherapy clinical trails involving lymphoma patients.

A similar technique that transports cancer-fighting antibodies to surgical sites through blood platelets is also being developed by biomedical engineers at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Photo by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.