A former patient at UNC’s cancer hospital has donated $10 million toward blood cancer research.
The gift from New Bern residents W.G. Champion “Champ” Mitchell and his wife, Etteinne “ET” Mitchell, will create a new fund at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, UNC announced Monday in a news release.
The money will help researchers as they study blood cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma. Blood cancer will kill an estimated 58,000 people in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Mitchell, a retired business executive, lawyer and UNC alumnus, was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015. He was treated at UNC, and his cancer went into remission.
Mitchell is a former member of the UNC Board of Governors.
Twice, Mitchell was told he probably wouldn’t survive, he said. He went through two rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant two years ago. He calls his outcome a miracle.
“I’m still here,” he said in a telephone interview.
Mitchell said he wants to speed up advances in therapy, including immunotherapy, which stimulates the body’s own immune system to go after cancer cells. UNC is already working on this approach.
“I would prefer that no one else ever have to go through a bone marrow transplant,” Mitchell said. “We have better ways coming, and they’re close to being there.”
Dr. Shelley Earp, director of UNC Lineberger, said the Mitchells want to help UNC innovate in hematologic cancers, an area where treatment has reached a plateau of success.
“The gift is wonderful,” Earp said in an interview. “What we’re trying to look at, and what Champ’s gift will allow, are novel forms of therapy where we can engage your immune cells or your immune system in ways that can attack the cancer in a more natural way. If you can activate the immune system to do it, then that’s essentially more effective therapy.”
The donation will boost both fundamental cancer research and the operation of clinical trials to test therapies, Earp said.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt said the Mitchells’ gift will accelerate important work at the cancer center.
“Lineberger is working on a range of laboratory and clinical trials — which are already showing great promise — to break the code into a complex cancer that is challenging to cure,” she said in a statement. “Inspired by Champ’s life-saving personal experience with our medical team, their support advances investigations into the underlying cellular mechanisms of blood cancer that can benefit thousands of people.”