Helmsley Trust awards $3.5 million grant to UNMC Eppley Cancer Center

Will provide women in rural communities greater access to personalized breast cancer care

Women living in rural Nebraska will now have greater access to personalized breast cancer care thanks to a $3.5 million grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center.

The grant will fund the Northern Great Plains Personalized Breast Cancer Program, a collaborative effort between the Eppley Cancer Center, Avera Health's Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls, S.D., Trinity Health Cancer Center in Minot, N.D., Sheridan Memorial Hospital and Welch Cancer Center, in Sheridan, Wyo.

The goal of the program is to provide breast cancer patients living in rural areas access to state-of-the-art cancer genomic analysis and personalized cancer treatment options, as well as access to the Eppley Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Collaborative Registry (BCCR).

The program includes Avera's network of more than 300 health care locations in Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, as well as the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center’s statewide affiliate cancer center network.

The Eppley Cancer Center network includes:

  • St. Francis Medical Center in Grand Island;
  • Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital in Hastings;
  • Great Plains Regional Medical Center in North Platte;
  • Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff;
  • Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney; and
  • Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk.

“This project will give patients in rural areas access to cutting-edge cancer research and patient care in local communities, with physicians making treatment decisions based on the genetic characteristics of each individual patient,” said Kenneth Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center.

Over the next three years, biopsies from 1,000 breast cancer patients will be profiled using genomic DNA and RNA analysis to identify the entire spectrum of genetic mutations and patterns of gene expression in each tumor.

RNA profiling studies have shown that breast cancers have at least four different patterns of gene expressions, while DNA sequencing studies have identified thousands of genetic mutations in each breast cancer.

“The information collected will revolutionize the treatment of patients by pinpointing the specific genetic drivers of each breast cancer and allow oncologists to develop individualized treatments for each patient,” Dr. Cowan said.

Patients will be enrolled in the BCCR, which collects information from breast cancer patients on demographics, medical and family history, exposure history, diet, exercise, quality of life and course of treatment.

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, established in 1999, is administered by four trustees selected by Leona Helmsley. As a continuation of the Helmsleys’ generous giving throughout their lifetimes, the trust supports a diverse range of organizations with a major focus on health and medical research, in addition to programs in human services, education and conservation. Since 2009, the trust has focused on rural health care in a seven-state region of the Midwest.

Through world-class research and patient care, UNMC generates breakthroughs that make life better for people throughout Nebraska and beyond. Its education programs train more health professionals than any other institution in the state. Learn more at unmc.edu.


Lisa Spellman
UNMC Public Relations
(402) 559-4353