PHILADELPHIA—A new gift to support the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) established and endowed the Pearl Basser Professorship for BRCA-Related Research. Katherine L. Nathanson, MD, deputy director of the Abramson Cancer Center and director of genetics at the Basser Center, has been appointed the inaugural chair holder. The gift comes from Shari Basser Potter (C’87) and Len Potter. The new chair will further strengthen the research efforts of the Center, helping to quicken the pace of new discoveries for individuals and families with a BRCA mutation.
“The Basser Center has already begun to transform the lives of people who face inherited BRCA-related cancer. The Pearl Basser Professorship for BRCA-Related Research will enable us to continue to ask and answer big, challenging questions,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center. “We’ll be able to explore new ideas and build on what we already know, to provide our patients with tomorrow’s therapies, today.”
Shari and Len Potter are longtime champions of the Basser Center and Penn. In 2013, the Potters established and endowed the annual Basser Global Prize, which honors a visionary scientist in the field who has advanced BRCA1/2-related research that has led to improvements in clinical care. They are also generous supporters of undergraduate scholarships at the University, having established the Pearl and Philip Basser Endowed Scholarship.
This gift continues a family legacy of philanthropy inspired, in part, by Shari’s mother, the late Pearl Basser. Pearl, who passed away in 2017, and her husband Philip Basser, instilled in their children the importance of giving back. In 2012, Shari’s sister and brother-in-law, Mindy Gray (C’92) and Jon Gray (C’92 W’92) established the Basser Center for BRCA, named in honor of their sister Faith, who died of BRCA-related ovarian cancer at age 44.
“Len and I are dedicated to the mission of the Basser Center, and know that its work to increase awareness and conduct groundbreaking research in hereditary cancer will lead to innovative new approaches to cancer treatment and care,” Shari said. “We are thrilled to be able to honor my mother, Pearl, and help the Basser Center provide better options and hope to individuals and families with BRCA mutations. Pearl would be proud knowing that someone of Dr. Nathanson’s exceptional caliber will hold a professorship in her name.”
The Basser Center for BRCA is the first comprehensive center for the research, treatment, and prevention of BRCA-related cancers. Led by executive director Susan Domchek, MD, the Center funds innovate research at Penn and around the world. A place where families can turn for education and genetic counseling, the Basser Center is a leader in raising awareness, which is currently the most effective way to save lives, and providing options to those affected by a BRCA mutation. The Basser Center continues to establish a far-reaching network of scientists, geneticists, and physicians dedicated to successfully treating BRCA-related cancers, with the goal of preventing them altogether.
“It is truly an honor to be the inaugural Pearl Basser Professor, and to be a part of this family’s incredible legacy of connecting and uniting people in the fight to end hereditary cancers,” Nathanson said. “Shari and Len’s generosity ensures that Pearl’s legacy will provide hope for generations to come.”
Nathanson is an eminent scientist, mentor, educator, and administrator who has distinguished herself as one of the foremost international leaders in cancer genetics and genomics, recognized for her clinical and research expertise in several cancer types including hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, testicular germ cell tumors, melanoma and neuroendocrine tumors.
Nathanson received her BA from Haverford College and MD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She completed residencies in both Internal Medicine and Clinical Genetics, along with a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer genetics. Her dual training has given her a unique and well-rounded perspective that helps move research from the lab to patients as quickly as possible. Nathanson has published more than 280 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Nature, JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, and Cancer Cell. She has an extensive record of national service, serving on committees for multiple organizations, several editorial boards and scientific review committees, mostly recently as Chair of the Cancer Genetics study section for the National Institutes of Health. She has received multiple awards, among which are the William Osler Patient Oriented Research Award and Frohlich Visiting Professorship, and has been elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the American Association of Physicians.
In addition to their generous philanthropic support, Shari serves as a member of both the Basser Center Leadership Council and the ACC Director’s Leader Council, providing key guidance and support for both groups. Len is a member of the ACC Innovation Advisory Board, a newly formed group created to engage business leaders in the region with the breakthrough science taking place at the cancer center.
This appointment and professorship establishment will be celebrated by Penn Medicine in the fall.
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