St. Louis couple gives $25M to Genome Institute

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — A St. Louis couple has donated $25 million to the Washington University School of Medicine's Genome Institute that will help pay for its research on cancer treatment and prevention.

Genome Institute director Rick Wilson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ( ) the donation by James S. McDonnell III and his wife, Elizabeth Hall McDonnell, is the institute's first big private donation.

James McDonnell, 78, served as a director of the family-owned McDonnell Douglas Corp. until its 1997 merger with Boeing Co. He and his family also helped the medical center build a pediatric disease research center in honor of their 2-year-old daughter, Peggy, who died of cancer in 1972.

Wilson said the contribution will help researchers study and sift through large amounts of genetic data. It's a task, he said, that's needed to help make discoveries about the illness.

"That's what it will take to keep us one of the best, to keep us being on top of the wave," Wilson said.

Lukas Wartman was completing a fellowship at the medical school three years ago when he learned his leukemia returned for a second time.

He was able to participate in a study by the Genome Institute that involved sequencing genomes of cancer patients. Scientists found a gene in overdrive that hadn't yet been identified with his acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A drug approved to treat kidney cancer targeted that gene, and within two weeks of taking it, Wartman's cancer was gone.

"I believe very strongly that had I been anywhere else in the world, I would've died," he said. "This groundbreaking research here at the time gave me the silver bullet to treat my leukemia."

The institute was founded in 1993 and is one of three large-scale genome centers in the U.S. supported by federal funds. Its researchers also study other diseases and conditions like Alzheimer's and autism.


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch,

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