A Lansing couple donates a record $5 million to the Sparrow Foundation, the largest donation ever in the history of Sparrow Health System.
The gift, from Jim and Judith Herbert, will establish the Genomics for Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Endowment to fund advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment through genomics and precision medicine at the Sparrow Herbert-Herman Cancer Centre.
The work will focus on the in-depth analysis of a patient’s genomic tests, which can lead to a tailor-made and precise treatment of their cancer. Genomics is a field of biology focused on the structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing of genomes.
Genomics-based clinical trials are already underway at the cancer center, director Dr. Gordan Srkalovic said, but the newly created endowment could be the first step in advancing this work, helping the cancer center become a hub for genomic testing.
“I believe this donation will make a difference not only to the community of Lansing, but to the larger Mid Michigan and Michigan community,” he said.
Jim and Judith Herbert are no strangers to how advances in cancer research and treatment at Sparrow can impact lives.
Both are cancer survivors. Sparrow’s medical professionals saved their lives, they said, by providing top-notch care in their own community.
“We love that it’s here and you can have all the treatments, and hopefully the cures, and still be able to sleep in your own bed every night,” said Judith Herbert, 81.
Their donation is the couple’s 101st financial contribution to the Sparrow Foundation.
A history of philanthropy
When 81-year-old Jim Herbert, founder of NEOGEN, a Lansing-based global animal and food safety company that started in the early 1980s, was first diagnosed with lung cancer more than a decade ago , Sparrow’s doctors removed the cancerous tissue.
Ten years later, after another tumor developed, targeted radiation was used to treat it instead, using ViewRay MRIdian. Sparrow Herbert-Herman Cancer Center was one of the first 12 cancer centers in the United States to use the advanced radiation therapy device.
Jim Herbert has since recovered from two more bouts with cancer, participating in more than one successful drug trial at the cancer center.
Judith Herbert was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004; she was treated at Sparrow and recovered.
A decade later, the Herberts, along with James and Susan Herman, donated a total of $2.5 million—then the largest donation ever—to build the cancer center, which bears the name of both families.
The Herberts began giving back to the Sparrow Foundation years earlier, making their first contribution of $100 in 1995.
Since then, they have been active donors to the foundation and involved with Sparrow—currently, Jim Herbert sits on the Sparrow Health System Board of Directors.
Melissa Herbert, 58, said her parents always prioritized giving back. Both come from modest upbringings in Tennessee. Jim Herbert’s parents were farmers and Judith Herbert’s father worked in a coal mine.
The Herberts met in college at the University of Tennessee.
“They worked hard,” said Melissa Herbert, and raised their two children to appreciate what they had and to know the value of giving back.
Jim Herbert often quotes a verse from the Bible when explaining the importance of philanthropy: “For to whom much is given, much will be required.”
“We looked at it that way,” he said. “We’ve been lucky and it’s nice to be able to give back some of what we’ve been able to accumulate and that’s been the main driver of what we do.”
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Contribute to advancing the use of genomics
The continued expansion of genomics and precision medicine is the next step to ensure Sparrow can continue to provide the best cancer treatment, Jim Herbert said.
Srkalovic said the Herberts’ support for the cancer center’s continued efforts in genomics stems from an understanding of science and medicine.
“They understand how important this area of oncology is because, in essence, oncology or cancer is a disease of genomes,” he said.
Genomics helps medical staff understand the genetic mutations that promote cancer growth, Srkalovic said.
“The role of genomics and precision medicine is to really identify the drivers of mutations that cause cancer to grow and try to stop them,” he said.
The new endowment will fund a Director of Cancer Genomics position, who will oversee and implement the program at Sparrow, and help expand genomics-related clinical trials at the cancer center.
Chris Gaudette, 52, of Bancroft has been on a trial for over a year. She was first diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2014, recovering from a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.
Gaudette’s cancer resurfaced in 2018 and she was placed in a clinical trial at the cancer center for drugs linked to a genomic study in December 2020 after chemotherapy failed to help.
“And I’m doing great,” Gaudette said. Her tumors haven’t progressed, she says, and more than one have shrunk since the start of her trial: “I feel that with this drug I’m stronger, I can be a little more physical.”
A genomic study can help identify the right cancer treatments for each patient, Jim Herbert said, and the endowment will help continue that work.
“The more time we have to build this kind of medical education, the more successful we will be,” said Jim Herbert.
“It’s just our hospital,” Judith Herbert said. “That’s how we feel. We’re part of the community.”
Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.