Louis and Christine Friedrich of Naples, Fla., have never met Dr. Timothy Fan, a veterinary oncologist and collaborative cancer researcher at the University of Illinois. But they share his passion for pets and for finding ways to fight cancer.
When the long-time pet owners heard about Dr. Fan’s passion for developing novel cancer treatments that are effective in pets and that may also help human patients, they made a $100,000 gift to support his work.
Having those funds provided Dr. Fan with the agility to pursue opportunities that might otherwise have gone unexplored.
Seizing an Opportunity in Immunotherapy
“The Friedrichs’ gift allowed me to develop a productive partnership with a biopharmaceutical engineer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. K. Dane Wittrup,” Dr. Fan says. “He and I met serendipitously while he was visiting campus, and we discovered common interests in immunotherapy.
“I recognized the potential of his work for treating dogs with melanoma, which is often deadly, because it spreads aggressively to other parts of the body. Immunotherapy is a way to train the dog’s own immune cells to control cancer cells both within the tumor and throughout the body.”
Drawing on the money from the Friedrichs’ gift, Dr. Fan conducted preliminary research using the approach Dr. Wittrup had developed. The success of this work led to the two researchers securing an R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to expand the study. This collaboration has also attracted funding from industry to move the treatment toward human trials.
Supporting the Next Generation of Researchers
An additional gift from the Friedrichs has allowed Dr. Fan to foster the growth of trainees working in his laboratory. In May 2022, Dr. Matheus Passos Barbosa, a PhD student mentored by Dr. Fan, received a Morris Animal Foundation grant to study an immune protein associated with the accelerated spread of osteosarcoma in dogs.
“I am deeply indebted to Friedrichs for their support. Their generosity has had a tangible impact on the fight against cancer,” says Dr. Fan. “By having discretionary funds to tap into, I was able to pursue productive collaborations that are making a difference in the lives of dogs with melanoma and showing promise for human cancer patients. Their gift is also an investment in the education of the next generation of cancer researchers.”