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Dr. Cowan named Fred and Pamela Buffett Presidential Chair

Image with caption: From left, Interim University of Nebraska President Susan Fritz, Ph.D., Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., Pamela Buffett, and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

From left, Interim University of Nebraska President Susan Fritz, Ph.D., Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., Pamela Buffett, and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

Kenneth Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, was honored last week by being named the Fred and Pamela Buffett Presidential Chair in Cancer by the University of Nebraska.

The Presidential Chair Award is the highest academic honor the university can bestow on a faculty member. This award is supported by a permanently endowed gift, which honors a senior faculty member who is a top scholar in a given discipline. The gift also provides ongoing support for research, development and program support related to that discipline.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., Nebraska Medicine CEO James Linder, M.D., Timothy Clare, J.D., chair of the Board of Regents, NU Interim President Susan Fritz, Ph.D., Theresa Franco, vice president of clinical operations at the cancer center and benefactor Pamela Buffett, who established the chair, were on hand to honor Dr. Cowan.

"Ken Cowan is a man of medicine, a man of great vision," Dr. Gold said. "But what sets him apart and makes him truly special is his unique ability to connect with people.

"I have often mentioned that as medicine becomes increasingly high-tech, we must never lose sight of the importance of the human touch. Dr. Ken Cowan is the embodiment of this ethos. You can ask any one of his hundreds of patients -- they believe in him, in no small part because of his belief in them. In some of the darkest moments of their lives, Dr. Cowan is at their side with medicine but also genuine empathy, encouragement. They know he is in the fight with them."

Dr. Cowan's vision and leadership were instrumental in the planning and successful completion of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which opened in 2017. He was especially involved in developing its plan for an innovative environment where science and patient care are integrated and where research and clinical experts work side by side to improve patient outcomes.

Over the past two decades, more than 200 faculty have been recruited to the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, and research funding has increased more than threefold, from $19 million in 1999 to more than $60 million in 2019.

At the ceremony, Dr. Cowan thanked Pamela Buffett for her unwavering support.

"Although it's only been open two-and-a-half years, it's clear that the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center is exceeding expectations for our patients, staff, faculty and students," he said. "New programs are already under way and under development including a multidisciplinary pancreatic cancer screening program and novel immunotherapies that utilize immune cells harvested from patients, expanded in these laboratories and given back to patients to treat their cancer.

"Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.' As I gaze at beauty within this cancer center, I dream about its future -- of extraordinary care and unlimited hope through the new therapies created here."

Buffett said her continued partnership with Dr. Cowan was an honor.

"It is a wonderful honor to partner with you, Ken, in your quest for cancer research and care," she said. "The presidential chair is given to you with respect and love from Fred and Pamela Buffett."

Key accomplishments

Among Dr. Cowan's accomplishments:
  • He is one of the leading breast cancer experts in the area and helps hundreds of people in their battle with the disease.
  • He was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve a six-year term on the National Cancer Advisory Board (2002-2008).
  • He positioned the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center to become a member of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium.
  • He has served on the board of the American Association of Cancer Institutes and currently serves on the board of directors for the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
  • He led the Ambassador of Hope Gala to raise cancer awareness by recognizing well-known individuals with a cancer connection. Awardees include Condoleezza Rice, Sam Donaldson, Robin Roberts and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
  • He received the 2018 Life Saver Award from the Nebraska Coalition for Lifesaving Cures and the 2015 Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
  • He received an Appreciation Award from the Cattlemen's Ball of Nebraska in 2019 and was inducted into the Aksarben Court of Honor in 2019.

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