Grantee Profile: UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Fighting Cancer in the Heart of Carolina

Cancer touches millions of lives each year, young and old, and can test even the strongest of individuals and families.

But those facing cancer have a strong ally right in the heart of North Carolina: the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the battle against cancer, few research institutions in the United States can match UNC Lineberger’s track record of excellence. Located on UNC’s medical campus, the cancer center brings together exceptional physicians and scientists from across the country to investigate and improve the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer.

Established in 1975, UNC Lineberger is named after the Lineberger family of Belmont, N.C. The family’s generosity formed the backbone of support for the creation of the Center.

UNC Lineberger received official designation as a cancer center from the National Cancer Institute in 1990. A classification awarded to only 41 comprehensive cancer centers nationwide, UNC Lineberger is the only public comprehensive cancer center in North Carolina to have this designation.

UNC Lineberger’s members and staff — 1,120 in total — come from more than 40 departments across the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, including the Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, the School of Dentistry and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Pope Foundation gift

The John William Pope Foundation was honored to give a $1.3 million gift to UNC Lineberger in 2014.

John William Pope was a long time supporter of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, including UNC Memorial Hospital. He envisioned that the Pope Foundation would help the fight against cancer in a way that would have an impact and benefit for North Carolinians.

$1 million of the gift will fund the John William Pope Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research. The professorship is presented in honor of Dr. Thomas Shea, Director of the UNC Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program and UNC Lineberger Associate Director of Clinical Outreach. Dr. Shea was John W. Pope’s physician while he was a patient at UNC Lineberger.

Achiever Spotlight: Dr. Thomas Shea

The remaining $300,000 will create the John William Pope Clinical Fellow Awards Program. The endowment will annually fund three scholars who are pursuing research into cancer.

“My father was passionate about giving to both cancer treatment and research, and that’s exactly what this professorship does,” said Art Pope, Chairman and President of the John William Pope Foundation. “He was very clear that he wanted any investment we made to stay in North Carolina. These are the kind of projects he would have wanted.”

Distinguished professorship

Because research and salary expenses have increased so dramatically in recent years, medical institutions have turned to the concept of endowed chairs to bridge the gap between available funding and the needs of their top faculty.

“I am humbled that the Pope family chose to make such a significant gift in my honor,” Shea said. “A new professorship provides critical support for our faculty and lays the groundwork for important next steps in our transplant and blood cancer research initiatives.”

Clinical fellows

The clinical fellows program will recognize three outstanding scholars judged by the faculty on the basis of their extraordinary clinical or translational cancer research during their post-graduate clinical training.

“It is critical that we provide support for our physician-researchers at the early stages in their careers,” said Dr. Norman Sharpless, UNC Lineberger Director. “This gift will help recognize our  trainees during this important time and help support their efforts as they grow into fully independent scientists and clinical researchers. I’m very excited about this support.”

Dr. Yueh Lee is a current UNC Lineberger clinical fellow and assistant professor of radiology at UNC. Support for the fellows program, like that of the Pope Foundation, has helped him tackle hard projects that might lack funding otherwise.

“As a clinician researcher, you’re pulled in two different directions: one is that you need to start your clinical career immediately, and the other is trying to work on research and developing these projects,” he said.

Another clinical fellow, Dr. Angela Smith, is an assistant professor of urologic oncology. “The clinical fellows program is a great opportunity to showcase our research projects,” she said. “Any avenue that can encourage collaboration is going to be important.”

To learn more about the John William Pope Foundation’s support for organizations like UNC Lineberger, click here.