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Couple donates $1 million toward WSU cancer research lab

Willard and Patricia Hennings, left and center, return to their seats past John Tomkowiak, Founding Dean Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, right, after revealing a plaque honoring their daughter, Tamara Hennings at a ceremony for the unveiling of the newly named Tamara A. Hennings Cancer Research Laboratory, Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at the WSU Health Science Spokane Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Building in Spokane, Wash. Tamara died in 2012 and her parents donated $1 million to the research center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Willard and Patricia Hennings, left and center, return to their seats past John Tomkowiak, Founding Dean Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, right, after revealing a plaque honoring their daughter, Tamara Hennings at a ceremony for the unveiling of the newly named Tamara A. Hennings Cancer Research Laboratory, Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at the WSU Health Science Spokane Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences Building in Spokane, Wash. Tamara died in 2012 and her parents donated $1 million to the research center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Willard and Patricia Hennings looked on as Washington State University leaders unveiled a plaque commemorating their daughter.

The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine on Tuesday dedicated a cancer research lab to Tamara Hennings, who died from cancer in 2012. Her parents donated $1 million to the college in her honor to fund the lab and a cancer research professorship.

“When we are looking through a microscope, imaging telomeres, or analyzing genetic sequences, we may momentarily forget about the human face of disease, of cancer,” said John Roll, the college’s vice dean for research, speaking from prepared remarks. “With this gift you are reminding us all of the human face of cancer; of the terrible toll to individuals, families and communities.”

Cancer researchers from several disciplines are already doing research on the Spokane health sciences campus. Those researchers include Weihang Chai, who looks at the fine details of tumor formation on a genetic level; Bin Shan, who studies the molecular mechanisms that govern lung cancer; and Weimin Li, who studies cancer cell survival and growth.

Roll said the gift would create a fund each year for researchers to get supplies or fund small projects, allowing them to kick off research that could lead to larger federal grants down the road.

“In this climate of austerity, gifts like this make a huge difference in our ability to move forward quickly,” he said.

The gift also endows a research professor. Roll said a nationwide search for that job would begin shortly.

The college hopes to hire someone with expertise in the links between cancer and nutrition, which could include everything from how different foods may cause or protect against cancer to optimal nutritional support for people undergoing cancer therapy.

The Hennings family did not speak during the dedication, aside from a brief statement by Tamara’s sister-in-law, Erika Hennings.

“From what I’ve learned about Tamara, she lived life to the fullest, and I believe would have embraced our efforts,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said. “Tamara’s extraordinary life will make a lasting difference and provide many opportunities to future generations of Cougs.”


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