“I can tell you that my group would not be as successful if we hadn’t interacted in such a very deep way with advancement,” says Nora Disis, M.D.

Disis, an oncologist and the Athena Distinguished Professor of Breast Cancer Research, heads the Tumor Vaccine Group (TVG) at UW Medicine, which aims to create vaccines to stop cancers before they start. Over the past few decades, Dr. Disis and her team have developed techniques that allow the immune system to respond to cancer — thus working around a core challenge with the disease: the body’s disinclination to fight it. Over the past five years, they’ve turned their attention to creating cancer vaccines to prevent diseases like colon, breast and lung cancer.

Long-time contributor Norm Slonaker was so impressed by this work, and so grateful for Dr. Disis’ support of his wife, Helen, during her battle with breast cancer, that he gave a significant contribution. Disis says the gift will be foundational to creating a Cancer Vaccine Institute. “It will accelerate our ability to recruit key scientists with specific expertise, and it will help faculty leverage their time now in pursuing new ideas,” says Disis.

One such faculty member, Sasha Stanton, M.D., Ph.D., wants to develop a vaccine that addresses ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common form of breast cancer, by targeting the genes most closely associated with the progression of DCIS into invasive breast cancer. If successful, a vaccine could prevent women from having to be treated with radiation or chemotherapy for this very early stage of disease.

Slonaker is one of numerous supporters that the advancement office has introduced to the CVI’s work, and, says Disis, these connections could not be more valuable. “Advancement opens the door to all different types of people and exposes them to our research, and the ability to partner with us on our research,” she says. “And that’s how we think of our donors: they’re our partners in this effort.”