UCSF receives $6.5 million gift from philanthropists Irwin and Joan Jacobs of La Jolla

Philanthropists Irwin and Joan Jacobs of La Jolla, CA are giving a $6.5 million gift to UCSF for head and neck cancer research. It is believed to be the largest private, U.S. gift for research supporting this disease.

Irwin Jacobs is the founder, retired CEO, and current board member of telecommunications giant Qualcomm. He is also a survivor of a rare form of the cancer.

The gift will establish two distinguished professorships at UCSF for head and neck cancer research, one in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and one in the Department of Radiation Oncology:

  • The Irwin Mark Jacobs and Joan Klein Jacobs Distinguished Professorship in Head and Neck Cancer - In honor of David W. Eisele, MD, professor and chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, who is the first recipient.

  • The Irwin Mark Jacobs and Joan Klein Jacobs Distinguished Professorship in Head and Neck Cancer Radiation Oncology - In honor of Jeanne Quivey, MD, professor of clinical radiation oncology, who is the first recipient.

The gift was announced by UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, at a special celebration ceremony attended by the Jacobses and other special guests.

In 2007, Jacobs discovered, while showering in his La Jolla home, a bump at the back of his jaw near his left ear. Initially, he consulted a dentist, believing it was a dental problem. The bump was later diagnosed as an adenoid cystic carcinoma, a cancer that generally originates in the salivary glands and for Jacobs occurred in his parotid gland.

Within weeks of his diagnosis, Jacobs was under the care of Eisele, who removed the tumor with a parotidectomy, preserving Jacobs' facial nerve. Quivey oversaw Jacobs' postoperative radiation therapy.

Jacobs recounted that Quivey "warned me I'd probably lose all my hearing in the left ear, which I haven't.'' He added, "It did take away my sense of taste for a while. There was a time when the only thing that tasted good was vanilla ice cream.''

Head and neck cancers account for about three to five percent of all cancers in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute, with a small proportion of those cancers occurring in the salivary glands.

"It's an unusual tumor,'' said Eisele. "We don't understand very well why these tumors occur. We don't understand the variability from patient to patient. We're very interested in the molecular underpinnings and the behaviors of these tumors so we can come up with more effective therapeutic strategies. The Jacobs' generosity will help us hopefully make some creative discoveries."

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