U of M President Robert Bruininks announced the gift during a festive morning news conference at McNamara Alumni Hall. Surrounded by balloons, dignitaries and a bagpiper, Bruinicks called the donation a historic gift that will transform the University and the state for years to come.
"Families will benefit, individuals will benefit, the businesses and industries of Minnesota will benefit, the health care industry of Minnesota will benefit. All of us will benefit from this very important and significant gift."
The donation adds to a long history of support from the Masons, also known as Freemasons. Over the past 53 years the secular fraternal society has donated $100 million dollars to the U of M for cancer care and research. To honor this latest gift, the University will rename it's Cancer Center the Masonic Cancer Center.
In spite of all of the cancer research conducted to date, there's still a lot we don't know about the disease, according to Dr. Ray Christensen, Grand Master of the Minnesota Masons. The quest for a cure reminds him of Lewis and Clark's expedition to map the western half of the United States. "Today we as did our ancestors know what the basic shape of the exploration is before us. But we need to define and refine it allowing us to discover those solutions that we never dreamed possible."
The Masons are hoping their money will make it much easier for university scientists to pursue their hunches.
Dr. Douglas Yee directs the newly named Masonic Cancer Center. It's his responsibility to figure out how to spend the money. Some of the money will likely go to supplement federal research grants that have withered in recent years, he says.
"Unfortunately the federal funding for research is declining and even if we have a successful research grant, they're automatically cut by 20 percent to 30 percent. So if you applied for a million dollar grant, you get $700,000, that's a good thing. But that leaves a significant amount of the project unfunded. So we will try to develop some mechanisms to support those kinds of projects."
Yee's investigators are interested in doing more research on cancer survivors and the issues they face later in life. The money could also be used to build teams of cancer investigators using scientists from other university departments.
The $65 million dollar gift wraps up a very good week for university researchers. On Monday the Gov. Pawlenty signed a bonding bill that helps fund several new biomedical buildings.
The buildings will help scientists take their discoveries beyond the laboratory, says Academic Health Center Senior Vice President Frank Cerra.
"One of those new facilities is going to be devoted to what we call translational research in cancer, so taking new research, new knowledge discovered by the basic scientists and making it attack cancer or using it to attack cancer."
Nationally the overall risk of dying of cancer has been decreasing since 1990. In Minnesota, the death rate continues to decrease by about 1 percent per year.
University researchers say the declining death rates are linked to previous investments in cancer research that have lead to earlier diagnosis, better treatment and more prevention strategies.