The Personal Forces Behind a $20 Million Gift For Cancer Research

The Keck School of Medicine of USC recently received $20 million from the the Gehr Family Foundation. The gift will be split between two Keck Medicine of USC doctors, internist David Goldstein and hematologist Casey O’Connell, and will support their research.

The big gift highlights a number of different themes we explore at IP, particularly the fact that many medical gifts are intensely personal. This gift is especially targeted, focusing on two researchers at USC, and the work that they've geen doing. What's the story here?

Well, for starters, it might be useful to know about the Gehrs. The late Norbert Gehr was the founder and CEO of the Gehr Group, a Los Angeles-based multinational organization with interests in international trade, and real estate, among other things. Gehr lived in California for some 56 years, where he attended Santa Ana College and UCLA. 

If Gehr didn't attend USC, what explains his large gift to the school?

Well, two years ago Gehr was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer in the blood cells. His doctors at Keck Medicine of USC were Goldstein, Gehr's longtime physician, and O'Connell. While Gehr unfortunately succumbed to his leukemia earlier this year, he believed strongly in his doctors and the work that they were doing, so much so that his family is supporting them to the tune of $20 million.

Wow.

We often see these kind of stories in health giving, where a donor gets pulled into health research after dealing with a personal health challenge. I've written for instance about billionaire Richard Rainwater, and his philanthropy backing neurodegenerative disease research. Rainwater himself suffers from a rare neurodegenerative disease, and has backed a research program to find a cure.

Related: Why This Billionaire Is Racing To Find a Cure for a Rare Neurodegenerative Disease

It's worth mentioning that in that Rainwater story, his family has become involved in health research, too, which of course makes sense: Disease often has an impact on an entire family and there's an all-hands on deck attitude. As well, even when a donor succumbs to disease, his or her family still is committed to find a cure. This definitely seems to be the case with the Gehrs.

Finally, here's a few more specifics about the kind of research that will be supported by the Gehrs' gift to USC. O’Connell aims to focus on "translational research into blood diseases such as myelodysplastic syndromes, which can lead to leukemia, and AML, the most common adult acute leukemia."

Goldstein's research, meanwhile, "includes practical methods for improving delivery of health care through a team-based, coordinated approach." The gift will also the gift will create a new Center for Implementation Science at Keck.