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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Evers Promotes State Funding For More Cancer Research At Medical College Of Wisconsin

Chuck Quirmbach
Gov. Tony Evers speaks Friday at a news conference at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Gov., and cancer survivor, Tony Evers defended his $2.5 billion capital budget proposal during a visit Friday to the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. 

Evers drew criticism from Republican leaders in the state Legislature after unveiling this week his two-year borrowing plan for state building projects. One lawmaker calls Evers' plan to roughly triple the last capital budget proposed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, "alarming."

But Evers maintains that the projects he wants built would help Wisconsin residents.

Take, for example, the $15 million Evers is proposing to help pay for a cancer research facility at the Medical College. Evers says that for many building projects, briefings must be done to understand a project's complexity and what a project means. But with the cancer research facility, that wasn't necessary for him.

"For me personally, being a cancer survivor, that kind of background I didn't need. I knew cancer was a significant influence on my own personal life, and my family's life," he says.

However, Evers says the proposed Medical College facility isn't about him. "It's about the thousands of other cancer patients we have, or will have going forward. It's important that the people of Wisconsin get the best research possible,” Evers says.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes speaks at Friday's news conference.

One project the Medical College is working on looks at why African-Americans in Milwaukee suffer from cancer at higher rates than others in the city. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who was also along on the Medical College visit, says having more medical research done locally will help.

"Everyone deserves access to affordable health care, and they also deserve access to the preventable measures to help avoid a cancer diagnosis. I'm proud to stand with Gov. Evers, the researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin and the people of this state, to provide the necessary resources to fund this research," Barnes says.

The state assistance would not cover the full cost of the research facility, and the Medical College requests additional support from the Evers administration.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
(From left) Dr. Joseph Kerschner and Gov. Tony Evers spoke at Friday's news conference.

Dr. Joseph Kerschner, dean of the Medical College's School of Medicine says, "The faculty in the white coats have a big appetite to wage war on cancer and bring cures," referring to the cancer researchers.

But he says, "We're grateful for the commitment from the state. Obviously, this was always a partnership." 

"We're scoping the size of the project itself. We do know it will be a substantial increase to over $30, $40, $50 million," Kerschner explains.

He says additional funds may come from operations of the medical school and philanthropic donations.

Meanwhile, the Medical College of Wisconsin says one research effort is already helping a local African-American man, Michael Robinson. Robinson was diagnosed in 2011 with a type of lymphoma that became a type of leukemia.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
(From left) Cancer patient Michael Robinson listens to Medical College of Wisconsin oncologist Dr. James Thomas at Friday's news conference.

Robinson says the disease made his life very difficult. "It was hard to do things. I was very tired. I had to stop being around crowds because my immune system was bad," he explains.

But then, in the last year or so, Robinson signed up for the CAR-T cell therapy clinical trial at Froedtert Hospital. Robinson's doctor — Parameswaran Hari, of the Medical College — says his team wound up taking some of Robinson's immune cells, reprogramming them in a lab, and putting the cells back into Robinson 16 days later.

"And a month later, these reprogrammed immune cells had wiped out every trace of cancer in [Robinson's] body. As of Thursday, we checked him again. He's still in remission," Hari says.

Addressing Evers' capital budget proposal for the Medical College, Hari says, "To have cutting-edge care come to every citizen at an affordable cost, you have to do it locally. And to have local research in Milwaukee, it's so important for the citizens of the state."

The State Building Commission will meet March 20 to consider the governor's proposed capital budget. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Republicans, would also need to pass the document.

The capital budget is separate from the state operating budget Evers recently proposed. Republican lawmakers have criticized that, too. Some legislators are beginning listening sessions on the proposed operating budget.

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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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