South Florida Hospital News
Saturday October 31, 2020
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October 2020 - Volume 17 - Issue 4
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Donation of $126 Million Comes As 'Big Surprise'

"It came as a big surprise," said Dr. Stephen D. Nimer, in what could be considered a classic understatement. Dr. Nimer was referring to a $126 million anonymous donation made on his behalf to the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami. However, while the donation itself might have been a surprise, the reason behind it is pretty clear.

Dr. Nimer said the donation – the largest single gift in the history of the University of Miami – came from a family that has been a supporter of his in the past, and a member decided that the work he was doing at Sylvester was worthy of this very large bequest. "I've known the family for a couple of decades but never imagined receiving a gift like this. My relationship with them was based on my expertise as a physician and a scientist, which is in the area of leukemia and stem cell transplantation. The assistance I provided to them and their friends was as a physician in my own field and related fields of medicine."
 
He has been honored in the past, including last November when he received the Oscar de la Renta endowed professorship. "That was very special for me. Endowed chairs are an indication from the university that you are an accomplished scientist and educator; doctors don't usually receive endowed chairs without having done some research from the university." Additionally, at Sloan Kettering, he was named the Alfred P. Sloan professor; but he has never been honored like this.
 
Dr. Nimer said the funds given were to be used at his discretion, that the donor "very much wanted me to spend money on things that were important to me. The gift was given because of care I provided, so I want to make sure it has a clinical impact on our community." He highlighted experimental therapeutics as being one of the most important areas, saying that it is a program that bridges the clinical and the laboratory. The gift has already been used to recruit a leader in the field, and Dr. Nimer added, "We'll use the money to find new cures in the lab for cancer, and we'll also use it to accelerate the clinical trials to demonstrate that some of the newer treatments are better than what we've traditionally been doing for cancer."
 
Part of the donation has also been earmarked for the epigenetics center, and he explained that epigenetics deals with a cell's identity. "The epigenetics we study is trying to understand how the cancer cell maintains itself; and if we can interfere with that, the next time the cancer cell divides, it will actually behave normally. Normal cells die over time; for example, your skin cells die and are replaced with new skin. So if you can get the cancer cell to think it's a normal cell, it will die. That's what the angle is: we're developing new drugs, and we need to understand how cancer cells maintain their abnormal identity."
 
Additionally, Dr. Nimer led the effort to secure National Cancer Institute designation for Sylvester, making it the only such center in South Florida. "We put together a phenomenal leadership team and worked very hard to get more federal and state dollars for our research. It was a very arduous process. We're the newest NCI designated cancer center, and we were told that we had one of the most impressive applications that they had seen in a long time. In the application, 124 researchers were highlighted." As a result, Dr. Nimer said there are treatments that are only available through the NCI, and Sylvester is therefore the only place in South Florida that has those treatments.
 
Dr. Nimer is excited not only about the gift itself, but also about the domino effect that may result in future donations. He said that when people see what Sylvester can do with that kind of money, it will change the manner in which they are supported. "People want to invest in a winner. I've been here eight years, and it's astonishing how much better we are becoming year after year. We're bringing in more and more world-class people, and the people who have been here for a long time are functioning at a higher level. We are able to provide so many advances in cancer care – patients are living much longer and much better lives, which is what this is all about."
 
Yes, the reason behind the donation on Dr. Nimer's behalf is clear.

For more information, call (305) 243-1000 or visit med.miami.edu.

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