A Lansing couple is giving the Sparrow Foundation a record-breaking $5 million, the largest gift in the Sparrow Health System’s history.
The Genomes Endowment for Diagnosis and Therapy of Cancer, established by Jim and Judith Herbert, will fund improvements in cancer diagnosis and treatment using genomics and precision medicine at Sparrow Herbert-Herman Cancer Center.
The research will concentrate on an in-depth examination of a patient’s genomic testing, which could lead to personalized, precise cancer treatment. Genomics is a branch of biology concerned with genomic structure, function, evolution, mapping, and editing.
Clinical trials based on genetics are already ongoing at the cancer center, according to Director Dr. Gordan Srkalovic, but the newly established endowment might help the cancer center become a center for genomics testing.
“I believe this donation will benefit not only the Lansing city but the whole Mid Michigan and Michigan community,” he stated.
Jim and Judith Herbert have seen firsthand how advances in cancer research and therapy at Sparrow can make a difference in people’s lives.
Both have battled cancer. They claimed that Sparrow’s medical personnel saved their lives by providing them with top-notch care in their community.
“We love that this is available and that you can get all of the treatments, and hopefully cures, while still sleeping in your bed every night,” Judith Herbert, 81, said.
This is the couple’s 101st monetary contribution to the Sparrow Foundation.
A Look at the History of Philanthropy
Sparrow doctors removed the diseased tissue when Jim Herbert, 81, the founder of NEOGEN, a Lansing-based global animal and food safety organization founded in the early 1980s, was originally diagnosed with lung cancer more than a decade ago.
After another tumor appeared ten years later, ViewRay MRIdian was used to treat it with targeted radiation. One of the first 12 cancer centers in the United States to use the sophisticated radiation machine was Sparrow Herbert-Herman Cancer Center.
Since then, Jim Herbert has recovered from two more bouts of cancer and has participated in numerous successful medication trials at the cancer institute.
In 2004, Judith Herbert was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment at Sparrow.
A decade later, the Herberts, along with James and Susan Herman, gave $2.5 million to create the cancer center, which is now named after both families.
The Herberts started donating to the Sparrow Foundation many years ago, with their initial $100 donation in 1995.
Since then, they’ve been generous to the foundation and involved with Sparrow – Jim Herbert is currently a member of the Sparrow Health System Board of Directors.
Melissa Herbert, 58, said that giving back has always been a priority for her parents. Both were raised in a low-income household in Tennessee. Judith Herbert’s father worked at a coal mine, while Jim Herbert’s parents were farmers.
The Herberts met at the University of Tennessee, where they were both students.
“They worked hard,” Melissa Herbert recalled, “and instilled in their two children a sense of gratitude for what they had and the importance of giving back.”
When illustrating the value of generosity, Jim Herbert frequently quotes a Bible verse: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him will be much asked.”
“That’s how we looked at it,” he explained. “We’ve been lucky, and it’s been nice to be able to give back part of what we’ve accumulated, and that’s been the main driving force behind what we’re doing.”
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Assisting in the Advancement of Genomics
Jim Herbert believes that expanding genomics and precision medicine is the next stage in ensuring that Sparrow can continue to provide the best cancer therapy.
Herberts’ support for the cancer center’s genomics work, according to Srkalovic, stems from a knowledge of science and medicine.
“They see the significance of this field of oncology because, at its core, oncology or cancer is a disease of genes,” he explained.
According to Srkalovic, genomics aids medical professionals in understanding the gene abnormalities that promote cancer progression.
“Genomics and precision medicine must find those drivers driving mutations that drive cancer to proliferate and try to halt them,” he said.
The new endowment will support the hiring of a director of cancer genomics at Sparrow, who will oversee and grow the program while also assisting in the expansion of clinical trials including genomics at the cancer center.
Chris Gaudette, 52, of Bancroft, has been a participant in a clinical experiment for over a year. In 2014, she was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and underwent a hysterectomy and chemotherapy to recover.
Gaudette’s cancer reappeared in 2018, and after chemotherapy failed, she was enrolled in a clinical trial at the cancer center in December 2020 for a medicine tied to a genomes study.
“I’ve been doing fantastic,” Gaudette added. “I feel like, with this drug I’m stronger, I can be a little more physical,” she said, adding that her tumors haven’t progressed and that more than one has shrunk since the start of the study.
According to Jim Herbert, a genomics study can assist determine the best cancer treatments for each patient, and the endowment will support that research.
“The more time we have to create that kind of medical foundation, the more effective we’ll be,” Jim Herbert explained.
Judith Herbert explained, “It’s just our hospital.” “That’s how we think about it. We’re a part of the neighborhood.”