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Release: Immediate

Holden Foundation of Williamsburg makes gift for UI cancer research

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A Williamsburg family that founded an agricultural company specializing in corn genetics has given a generous gift to benefit University of Iowa research into developing therapies for treating cancer in humans.

The Ruby and Roland Holden Foundation made the gift to establish the Roland W. Holden Family Program for Experimental Cancer Therapeutics at the University of Iowa Cancer Center and the UI department of internal medicine in the College of Medicine. The Holden Foundation made an outright cash gift and pledged an additional amount each year for five years.

The Holden Family Program will support cancer research that ranges from the design and synthesis of new chemicals to testing therapeutic agents in humans. The gift will be used to purchase research equipment and supplies, to fund stipends for researchers, and support other projects related to cancer research.

Half a million Americans, including 6,800 Iowans, will die from cancer this year, according to national statistics.

Dr. Raymond J. Hohl, associate professor of internal medicine and pharmacology at the UI College of Medicine, has been named director of the Holden Family Program for Experimental Cancer Therapeutics. "Private funding, such as the generous gift from the Holden family, is critical to future successful cancer research," Hohl said. "With advances in technology and investigative techniques, I'm optimistic that we can save many lives in the coming years. We're grateful to the Holdens for widening that circle of opportunity and for taking a step toward linking laboratory research to patient care, giving Iowans access to treatments relatively close to home."

Dr. Hohl's current research program is nationally recognized as one that develops new strategies to interfere with an important pathway that, when abnormal, promotes the conversion of normal cells to those that display cancerous features. Abnormalities in this pathway contribute to the development and progression of nearly half of all human cancers. Hohl's program is considered to be highly translational because it not only develops new strategies in the laboratory but applies or "translates" these strategies into human clinical trials.

The UI Cancer Center's mission is four-fold, encompassing research, clinical care, education and prevention. Faculty members at the Cancer Center and UI College of Medicine have a strong record of external grant support for specific research projects, but additional funding is needed to help physicians and researchers translate laboratory results to medication and treatment for children and adults, Hohl said. Private resources, such as the Holden gift, help bridge the gap, Hohl noted. Ruby Holden's husband, Roland, died of leukemia in 1995. Ruby's father and brother also died of leukemia, and her sister was treated for breast cancer. "Cancer has eaten away at our family. It has consumed us in so many ways," she said. "I hope we can someday say our family played a role in finding a cancer cure."

Other family members participating in the gift and pledge are Ron, Arlene, and Kathy Holden, Susan and David McCurry, Karol Holden, and Mary and Curt Blythe.

Roland W. Holden started Holden's Foundation Seeds in 1937 in Williamsburg. Holden's produces corn germ plasm for sale and use by retail seed companies. Retail seed companies use Holden genetics to produce hybrids that are packaged and sold to farmers.

The Monsanto Company bought Holden's Foundation Seeds in 1997. Holden's Seeds continues to operate as a self-contained unit within Monsanto, employing more than 100 people in Williamsburg and other research locations.

The Holden Foundation encourages contributions from other donors to add to the endowment established for this research program.

The UI Foundation is the preferred channel of support for private contributions to all areas of the University of Iowa. Foundation staff members work with alumni and friends to provide support for a broad range of projects and programs at the University of Iowa.