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Press Release
March 15, 2007
Rachael Smith
(843) 792-7694


Gift establishes new endowed chair in melanoma research

Charleston, SC (March 15, 2007) - The Medical University of South Carolina will establish a new endowed chair dedicated to melanoma research, thanks to a $500,000 gift from an alumnus of the university's College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes, the cells that make the pigment melanin. While melanoma accounts for about 4 percent of all skin cancers, it is responsible for over 77 percent of skin cancer deaths. Nearly 60,000 people in the U.S. will develop the disease this year, and more than 8,100 will die from it, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Vincent Peng, a 1966 graduate of the Medical University's College of Pharmacy and 1970 graduate of its College of Medicine, made his gift to the university's Hollings Cancer Center and Department of Dermatology to help scientists learn more about a form of cancer he felt was poorly understood.

Dr. Vincent Peng, second from right, with (l-r) Dr. Andrew Kraft, U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings and Dr. Jerry Reves, Vice President for Clinical Affiars and Dean of the MUSC College of Medicine.

"Many other forms of cancer are pretty well understood, generally, but this is not so with melanoma. It's a wild animal," says Dr. Peng. "As far as research goes, we are a latecomer; there haven't been many important breakthroughs. So my wife and I thought this is where we ought to invest our resources."

Dr. Peng, a longtime member of the clinical faculty in the Emory University School of Medicine, practices dermatology, Mohs microscopic surgery for skin cancers and dermatopathology in Stockbridge, Georgia. He first became interested in skin cancer while performing his residency in dermatology at Emory University in the early 1970s. His particular interest in melanoma began while he was receiving advanced surgical training at the University of Wisconsin under the tutelage of the renowned surgeon Dr. Frederich Mohs, who developed a surgical procedure, Mohs microscopic surgery, that remains extremely effective in treating most forms of skin cancer - except melanoma, notes Dr. Peng.

Dr. Peng says an "exponential increase" in the incidence of melanoma led him and his wife, Cecilia, to become actively involved in creating an accelerated research initiative at the Medical University. "I've seen what's going on here," says Dr. Peng of Hollings Cancer Center. "It's a rising star in cancer research, and we wanted to be part of that."

Dr. Peng believes that the Cecilia and Vincent T. Peng Endowed Chair in Melanoma Research will help attract top researchers to the Medical University, perhaps leading to the eventual establishment of an entire center dedicated to discovering a cure for melanoma.

"It's like the chicken-egg question: Do major centers draw the best people, or do the best people help create the major centers?" asks Dr. Peng. "For me, everything you do in life, you have to start with a nucleus point and build on it. I believe this endowed chair will be the nucleus point that helps attract the people who could one day cure melanoma."

Hollings Cancer Center Director Dr. Andrew Kraft says the Pengs' gift will put the center one step closer to achieving highly coveted designation as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute.

"Melanoma is one of the few forms of cancer that are actually increasing in incidence, yet there's very little productive research taking place at this point," says Kraft. "The Pengs have enabled us to create a very unique resource, as far as cancer research programs go, one with national and international significance. This truly does set Hollings Cancer Center apart from most other cancer centers. We're extremely grateful for the Pengs' confidence and generosity."

# # #
What is an endowed chair?

In the early history of universities, chairs were somewhat rare pieces of furniture. Only upon attaining the rank of tenured professor did a faculty member earn the privilege of having a chair, which often was provided by a generous benefactor.

Over time, these chairs came to symbolize the level of support for the work of an acclaimed educator, researcher or clinician. Today, the endowed chair provides a means whereby the university may recruit and retain a nationally prominent clinician, helping move an already excellent program into a position of true preeminence.

An endowed chair is established through a major philanthropic gift from a benefactor such as Dr. Peng. Once established, the chair is permanent. The principal remains in a professionally managed fund, earning income that is used to attract and/or retain a leading educator or researcher to collaborate with and mentor students and faculty members.

The Cecilia and Vincent T. Peng Endowed Chair in Melanoma Research will allow Hollings Cancer Center and the Medical University's Department of Dermatology to attract knowledgeable and experienced faculty, build the appropriate infrastructure for further discovery, and promote more extensive collaborations within the Medical University and the Southeast region.

Ultimately, this chair will allow the department to enhance its basic and clinical science research efforts, continue ongoing clinical trials, and develop new and novel projects in combination with the basic research departments at MUSC, eventually leading to breakthroughs in the treatment and ultimate cure of melanoma.