Building Good Citizens

It's rare for research money to come with few strings attached -- especially if it involves millions of dollars.

But the Avon Products Foundation Inc. gave just that sort of a gift to The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University early this year.

Monica Morrow, director of the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Program, and her husband, V. Craig Jordan, director of the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Research Program, were delighted with the $2.2 million gift. Accordingly, they chose several clinical programs and research projects for further pursuit. Avon's only stipulation was that $500,000 be used to provide clinical care to medically underserved women -- something that will continue a program Morrow began with a $4 million federal grant she received in 1996.

"The truly wonderful thing about this gift is that you can use the money in whatever way you want," Morrow says. "You can use it to build upon your strengths and enhance them." One of those areas is Jordan's research on selective estrogen receptor modulation. He pioneered the use of tamoxifen, a failed contraceptive, for breast cancer treatment and prevention. Tamoxifen works by blocking the estrogen that fuels breast-tumor growth.

Another research project will focus on breast cancer causes and risk factors for minority women. "We are going to look at breast density and breast risk factors to see if that will help us understand why there are differences in cancer outcomes on the basis of race even after you correct for socioeconomic status," Morrow says.

The Avon gift will also be used to expand the cancer center's digital mammography research program, establish a tissue bank that links to a computerized patient data registry, provide gene chip technology to analyze the genetic basis of breast tumors, support three women physician-scientists at the cancer center, create a permanent Avon Breast Cancer Research Scholar position and establish an education program for medical students in nutrition and cancer risk reduction.

"We are supporting a very broad range of research projects, since you can do a lot of work for that amount of money," Morrow says.

Avon was attracted to the cancer center by the "stellar reputation" of the breast program's husband-wife team, says Marydale DeBor, a consultant to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade. "They combine good science with the ability to engage the community and do a lot that benefits women consumers generally -- and medically underserved women in particular," she notes.

Much of this appeal undoubtedly rests with Morrow. "Avon is delighted to identify someone who is competitive on every level and is a woman leader," DeBor says. "Our tagline is 'the company for women,' so to be able to establish a relationship with someone like Dr. Morrow really fits right in with the company's perspective in valuing women leaders and nurturing them." -- V.F.