Tuesday’s ovarian cancer announcement at Victoria Hospital was timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day because, at the heart of the $5.25 million given to LHSC’s translational ovarian cancer research team, is a love story.
When former Western University economics prof John Knight died Jan. 21, 2016, he left that amount from his “worldwide estate” as a tribute to his wife, Mary, who succumbed to the disease in 2008. “They lived a simple life, devoted to one another,” said Bob Merrifield, a friend of the Knights and John Knight’s Canadian executor. The couple was married 34 years.
The money will go toward hiring researchers, buying equipment and enabling collaborations with other researchers around the world.
“It’s a fair bit of cash and we’ve got to do great things with it, so the pressure’s on,” said cancer researcher Gabe DiMattia.
“We need the hands and we need the minds of highly specialized personnel,” added his research partner, Trevor Shepherd, in explaining how the gift will be used partly as a way to make the Lawson Health Research Institute (the research arm of London Health Sciences Centre) a magnet to attract cancer specialists to join their team.
In addition to Merrifield, Knight also had executors in his native Australia and Great Britain. “It was quite a global task that went into making this announcement today,” Merrifield said.
In recognition of Knight’s generosity, the first floor lobby in Victoria Hospital’s A-block was branded the Mary and John Knight atrium.
According to DiMattia, the reason ovarian cancer is so pernicious is it defies early detection.
“It’s only anecdotally detected at a very early stage,” he said. The signs include feeling bloated and full.
“We don’t have screening tools for it,” echoed Neil Johnson, LHSC’s head of cancer care.
The key is unlocking how ovarian cancer metastasizes, how the cancer cell grow and move from one area in the body to another.
“We’re a discovery lab,” DiMattia said by way of explaining his and Shepherd’s work. One of the keys in the fight will be, as Shepherd noted, developing partnerships with other researchers and other institutions.
“We can’t do it all. We need collaborators,” DiMattia explained.