By Cyrena Musset
Photography by Sam Ogden
An anonymous donor first became acquainted with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2021 through their desire to support the fundraising efforts of a friend who is a patient at the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center led by Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH. When the donor’s niece was later diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (NET), they knew exactly where to turn. Dr. Ng introduced the donor to Jennifer Chan, MD, MPH, director of the Neuroendocrine and Carcinoid Tumor Program and clinical director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber.
The donor was deeply impressed by Chan’s broad knowledge about advances and limitations of current therapy options for neuroendocrine tumors and was eager to be involved in their niece’s care. Inspired by Chan’s work, the donor made a generous gift of $1,000,000 to fund a two-year project led by Chan and Eliezer Van Allen, MD, who is chief of the Division of Population Sciences at Dana-Farber. Van Allen’s lab focuses on computational cancer genomics—the application of new molecular technologies to advance precision cancer medicine and curb resistance to cancer therapeutics using advances in artificial intelligence. Together, Chan and Van Allen wish to learn as much as possible about the immunological microenvironment of NETs, which they hope will lay the framework for developing new immune-based therapies for this disease.
NETs, particularly pancreatic NETs, are a rare form of cancer that often goes underfunded, so donor support is crucial to make advances in patient care. Thanks to this gift, Chan and Van Allen will use single-cell RNA sequencing approaches on the tumor cells and the immune cells in order to better understand the immune microenvironment of NETs. They further aim to identify mechanisms to augment the immune response with the ultimate goal of developing new immunotherapeutic or vaccine approaches to treat this rare cancer.
“We are very grateful for the support this donor has provided for this crucial research,” Chan said. “We are hopeful that this project will bring us one step closer to providing effective, lasting treatments for this rare disease,” added Van Allen.
“In my experience, great things likely happen when the head meets the heart,” the donor said. “By the head, I mean brilliant ideas and fortitude and by the heart, I mean simply good, caring people. I would tell my fellow donors that at Dana-Farber I frequently feel the head indeed meets the heart.”