Article written by Jordan Killebrew, published for the Santa Barbara Foundation at SBFoundation.org
“Dr. Bierman was a true Renaissance man. In many of his interest areas, he was very much ahead of his time,” reflected Richard Gunner on the achievements of the esteemed Howard R. Bierman, M.D. From bio-chemist to oncologist, hematologist to aviator, inventor to loving family man, Dr. Bierman’s accomplishments exceeded his lifetime, as did his goal to cure cancer, which continues through Gunner’s stewardship of the Howard R. Bierman, M.D. fund at the Santa Barbara Foundation.
In the 1940’s, Dr. Bierman was first introduced to the Gunner family when he was the Medical and Scientific Director, at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. Over time, Dr. Bierman left the City of Hope and became one of the most respected private physician serving the Beverly Hills area. In the 1950’s when Gunner’s father was diagnosed with cancer, they returned to Dr. Bierman for care. This is when Gunner and Dr. Bierman began their strong friendship.
Dr. Bierman gave 50 years of service to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and ultimately opened his own cancer research facility, The Institute for Cancer and Blood Research. When Dr. Bierman passed away in 2011, his family established a fund at the Santa Barbara Foundation to receive the liquidation of the institute’s assets. Prior to Dr. Bierman’s passing, Gunner was personally asked to become the trustee of the fund to ensure Dr. Bierman’s legacy was preserved and stewarded. Among the first grants chosen by Gunner was a multi-year grant to launch the Cancer Center’s new Lynch syndrome, Education and Assessment Program (LEAP) whose purpose is to identify, counsel, and monitor people in Santa Barbara County with Lynch syndrome.
Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition associated with an increased risk of colon and other cancers. It is estimated that 3%-5% of colon cancers are due to a gene change (mutation) that causes Lynch syndrome. Those with Lynch syndrome have an increased chance of developing a second colon cancer, and other cancers such as uterine cancer. “Awareness has grown regarding hereditary genes for breast cancer, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, over the last few years. Lynch syndrome is just as common but is not as well known. The LEAP program aims to increase the awareness of Lynch syndrome in our community,” explained Danielle Sharaga, MS, LCGC, and genetic counselor at the Cancer Center. “One in 500 people have Lynch syndrome. This means that we believe there are hundreds of unidentified individuals with Lynch Syndrome in the county…It is our goal to find these people and educate them and their families about screening and prevention programs that will ultimately save lives.”
The contributions from Dr. Bierman’s fund that Gunner directed to LEAP and the Cancer Center will help increase access and awareness within the area. “Appointments took 6-9 months to obtain prior to receiving the funds,” said Rob Dunton, Director of Philanthropy at the Cancer Foundation Center. “Now, with this aid, we have added two specialists and cut the appointment time down to 10 days and we are working with physicians and pathology groups to find patients with a high likelihood of Lynch syndrome to test and confirm. This information can change the lives of these patients, and everyone in the blood line – the impact is far reaching.”
“At the end of the day, I know Dr. Bierman would be very pleased with the work of this new LEAP project. It is so in line with the cancer and blood research that was central to his life for so many years. I believe he would think that the support his fund is providing is a wonderful way to continue his legacy,” said Gunner.
Those interested in learning more about LEAP or how to support other cancer programs should contact Rob Dunton at firstname.lastname@example.org.