A former patient of the N.C. Cancer Hospital is showing his gratitude to the center that helped him heal. A $10 million gift from Etteinne “ET” and W.G. Champion “Champ” Mitchell ’69 of New Bern will create a fund supporting groundbreaking research in blood cancer at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, including lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma research.
Someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with blood cancer nearly every three minutes. In 2015, Champ Mitchell was one of those. Mitchell was treated for stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the cancer hospital, the clinical home of Lineberger. Dr. Thomas C. Shea ’74 (’78 MD), the John William Pope Distinguished Professor in cancer research, led a team of clinicians that developed a treatment approach that put Mitchell’s lymphoma into remission. The care he received inspired the Mitchells to create the Champ and ET Mitchell Fund for Blood Cancer Research, which aims to accelerate research, ultimately improving the lives of future patients.
“Every day, 151 fellow North Carolinians learn they’re facing a daunting battle against a deadly disease. And I know from personal experience, it’s not a fight you can or should do alone,” said Champ Mitchell, who also earned his law degree from Carolina in 1975. “Between the support of my family and an innovative, caring team of physicians and researchers lead by Dr. Shea at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital and UNC Lineberger, we fought my battle together. Today, my battle is won, but so many others need partners to fight with them. ET and I believe our gift can help the UNC Lineberger team bring all of us closer to a cure than ever before.”
The American Cancer Society estimates that blood cancers will cause more than 58,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2018 alone. The Mitchells’ gift will further current and future research conducted by Shea and other Lineberger faculty and teams that translate fundamental knowledge into new avenues of therapy for one of the deadliest forms of cancer. As co-director of Lineberger’s Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Shea leads a research team that is studying how to reduce the risk of cancer relapse in patients following a bone or stem cell transplant.
Lineberger is one of a select few academic medical centers in the U.S. with the facilities, technology and personnel to develop, produce and deliver cellular immunotherapy. Cellular immunotherapy is a promising field of cancer research and care that involves genetically engineering a patient’s immune cells to recognize and fight the patient’s cancer.
“Our cellular immunotherapy studies have had notable success in treating some blood cancers, but these are a complex group of cancers that likely will require a number of treatment options — many of which have not yet been discovered,” said Dr. H. Shelton Earp ’70 (MD, ’72 MS), director of Lineberger. “This gift will jump-start innovation and discovery.”