The ceremony installing the J. Terrence Lanni Chair in Cancer Research was one of heartfelt tributes for two men, a doctor and a patient, who formed a tight bond over the years they fought to save Terry Lanni’s life.
Terry Lanni lost his battle against colon cancer in 2011 and his family decided to honor his memory by endowing a chair in his name at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. They also wanted Terry Lanni’s friend and physician, Heinz-Josef Lenz, associate director for adult oncology and co-leader of the gastrointestinal cancers program at USC Norris, to be the first holder of that chair.
“Terry fought cancer with dignity and with a positive attitude,” Debbie Lanni said of her husband. A member of the Board of Overseers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, she added: “I attribute a lot of his strength to Dr. Lenz. They had a wonderful relationship.”
USC Provost Michael Quick pointed out that sitting in an endowed chair is the highest honor for any professor because it allows them to take risks in their research. In this case, Lenz added that this chair holds a deeper meaning because it carries the name of a friend.
“Having his name on my business card is so meaningful,” said Lenz, who noted that it will be a constant reminder of their commitment to making colon cancer a disease of the past. “I will never give up.”
The gathering on a warm and windy afternoon in the gardens of USC Norris was attended by Quick, as well as James Ellis, dean of the USC Marshall School of Business, and Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Stephen B. Gruber, director of USC Norris, said that Lenz was deserving of this honor because of his passion to help his patients, which is why he has excelled as both a physician and a researcher.
Lenz and his research team have made ground-breaking advances in colorectal cancer research and treatment. They have identified variations in genes that predict patients’ response to chemotherapy, novel genes associated with DNA repair and novel mechanisms of drug action.
“Dr. Lenz is at the forefront of new therapies and for colon cancer,” said Gruber, adding that Lenz is one of the first people he turns to for clinical advice.
Ellis and Puliafito also spoke about Terry Lanni’s long history of giving to his alma mater. Terry Lanni graduated from USC in 1965 and went on to have high profile business career as chairman and chief executive officer of MGM Mirage.
Puliafito added that Terry Lanni was also a great supporter of the Keck School, having served on its Board of Overseers.
“We are truly honored to have a chair in his name,” said Puliafito.