Charles and Daneen Stiefel donated $1.3 million last week to Duke researchers investigating the link between immune deficiencies and cancer.
The privately funded donation will be used by Dr. Patricia Lugar—professor of allergy and immunology at the Duke Asthma, Allergy and Airway Center—and Dr. Sandeep Dave—associate professor of medicine at the Duke Cancer Institute. The researchers hope to elucidate the genetic relationship between Common Variable Immune Deficiency and lymphoma in order to create better diagnostic tools for treatment.
“Very little research has investigated the genetics of immune deficiency," Lugar said. "Many patients are misdiagnosed, and this research will help in developing better diagnostic tests and novel models for the disease.”
CVID destroys antibodies, which jeopardizes the body's immune system and increases the chance of cancer. Patients with CVID are 10 to 100 times more likely to develop lymphoma, Dave said.
Currently, there is a lack of good diagnostics tests for CVID, said Dr. Nancy Andrews, vice chancellor for academic affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. This means people with CVID can be undiagnosed for months or years, which leads to unnecessary suffering.
James Siedow, vice provost for research and professor of biology, noted that the donation came at a time where research funding has decreased dramatically because of the federal sequester.
"In general, grants have been reduced by more than 1,000 proposals," he said.
When Duke Medicine receives a large donation, like the one from the Stiefels, it is funneled to support research designated by the donor, and the associated costs of the research, Andrews added.
The Stiefels also funded Dr. Lugar’s previous research in 2011, which worked to identify genes associated with CVID.
Dave is confident that the money will be used well, noting that Lugar's research is being conducted in the largest center serving patients with CVID.
"If we can investigate the underlying genetics and prove that a subset of CVID patients are at high risk for developing lymphoma, we can potentially diagnose these patients early and cure them,” said Dave.
Charles Stiefel serves on the Duke Medicine Board of Visitors.