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Patient's Gift Funds Myeloma Research

Gwen Ericson

Dec. 7, 2009 – Research into the causes and treatment of multiple myeloma has received a significant boost thanks to a gift to the Division of Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Harvey and Linda Saligman have made a commitment to establish the Harvey and Linda Saligman Multiple Myeloma Research Fund in recognition of the division's excellence in the field and in gratitude for treatment received for the disease. The gift will support multiple myeloma research to understand the root causes of the disease and develop new treatments that will improve outcomes for patients.

"The Saligmans' gift offers the opportunity for Washington University to enhance its already impressive strengths in the areas of multiple myeloma research and treatment," says Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton. "We are very grateful for the Saligmans' compassionate action in supporting this important endeavor."

Harvey Saligman, a St. Louis-area private investor, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma about three years ago. He is treated by Ravi Vij, MD, an oncologist with the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. Saligman's myeloma is now in remission.

"Having been associated with Washington University for more than 20 years, I know its capabilities – I know it has great physicians and researchers," Saligman says. "And when I learned I had myeloma, Linda and I decided that we had the chance to make a huge difference for many people by supporting research into this disease."

Multiple myeloma, also called myeloma or plasma cell myeloma, is the second most common type of blood cancer. Myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow and may damage the solid part of the bone. It is estimated that 21,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease this year and 11,000 will die.

Division of Oncology chief John DiPersio, MD, PhD, deputy director of the Siteman Cancer Center and Lewis T. and Rosalind B. Apple Chair in Oncology, says the division's basic scientific research is among the best in the country, and its clinical research programs are growing rapidly. The oncology division conducts clinical trials to evaluate new multiple myeloma treatments as well as research in bone biology, myeloma genetics and the incidence and distribution of the disease.

"We are at a critical point and ready to go from a local and regional center to a national myeloma center," DiPersio says. "The Saligmans have made their generous gift with the hope that it will create excitement and enthusiasm in the community and be self-perpetuating. It is an important gift because funding from other sources is not enough – community and philanthropic support is what will make the difference to our success."

Harvey Saligman has been a member of the Board of Trustees of Washington University since 1986. He is a partner in Cynwyd Investments, a family real-estate partnership. He also has served in various executive capacities in the consumer products industry for more than 35 years.

Previously, the Saligmans have given funds to support undergraduate scholarships at Washington University and to construct the Saligman Family Atrium at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum on the University's Danforth Campus. They also established the Craig K. Reiss, MD, Award for Excellence in Teaching at the School of Medicine.

Harvey Saligman found he had myeloma after developing severe hip pain that made walking nearly impossible. A scan of the hip showed a myeloma tumor. Fortunately, hip surgery, radiation therapy and a bone-marrow suppressing drug eliminated his tumor and the pain and got his life back to normal.

"I have been very fortunate that my disease has been in remission most of the time," Saligman says. "Linda and I have learned that myeloma has had comparatively little research support. We realized we could help change that and, at the same time, bring the credit to Washington University, whose quest for excellence has kept us involved over the years."

Myeloma begins when plasma cells – a kind of white blood cell – become abnormal. In addition to its effects on bone, the disease may harm other tissues and organs, including the kidneys.

"Multiple myeloma is rapidly undergoing a therapeutic revolution," says Vij, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Oncology. "We have already made great strides in improving the life expectancy of patients with multiple myeloma and hope that we can someday come up with curative therapies."

Washington University is a member of the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium (MMRC), an organization of 13 leading U.S. academic centers designed to speed the development of new myeloma therapies. As a member of the consortium, the University can provide patients with access to novel medications that would not otherwise be available.