Gift Establishes Diamond Hereditary Cancer Prevention Initiative at Sylvester
The $5 million gift will fund prevention, risk reduction, early diagnosis, lifestyle management and research in high-risk populations for hereditary cancers.
Jon Diamond and his three children are all BRCA2 positive. The inherited genetic mutation puts them at a greater risk of developing breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic and skin cancers. Concerned about his family’s future health, Diamond wanted to know what could be done to prevent cancer before it occurs.
That’s a question physician-researchers at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System, delve into every day. So the family decided to put its faith and philanthropy behind the innovative research with a $5 million gift to establish the Diamond Hereditary Cancer Prevention Initiative.
A key component of the initiative is the establishment of the Diamond Protocol at Sylvester. It will focus on prevention, risk reduction, early diagnosis, lifestyle management and research in high-risk populations for hereditary cancers, including families of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, like the Diamonds, who have a higher incidence of inheriting a BRCA gene mutation.
“We hope the Diamond Protocol will provide people with an easy channel to be prudent with their health and get on a regular program of preventive actions, such as exercise, nutrition, and diagnostic screenings,” said Jon Diamond, a 66-year-old entrepreneur who lives half the year in South Florida.
A Quest for Cancer Prevention
Diamond first proposed the protocol concept to his physician, Daniel Sussman, M.D., M.S.P.H. ’02, a Sylvester researcher and professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine with an interest in the prevention of colorectal cancer and inherited cancer syndromes of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Dr. Sussman co-manages a Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Clinic in collaboration with the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics at the Miller School. This shared service offers comprehensive genetic counseling and GI medical and endoscopic care for patients with a history of cancer.
“With the advent of genetic testing and having a family pedigree drawn, we’re able to effectively identify people and families, like the Diamonds, who are at risk but don’t yet have cancer,” said Dr. Sussman. “Their generous gift will bring the care for these patients together in one place and allow their preventive measures to be tracked in an effective manner.”
Lifestyle Changes Reduce Cancer Risk
As co-lead of the Cancer Control Research Program and director of lifestyle medicine, prevention, and digital health at Sylvester, Dr. Crane focuses her research on the impact of interventions that leverage modifiable lifestyle behaviors, such as diet and physical activity, to reduce risk across the cancer continuum.
Dr. Penedo, director of cancer supportive care and survivorship at Sylvester and the Sylvester Dolphins Challenge Cancer Living Proof Endowed Chair in Cancer Survivorship, has committed his work to studying how sociocultural, bio-behavioral and psychosocial factors impact cancer prevention, adjustment to a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
“We are witnessing exceptional advances in genetic testing and our ability to identify individuals and families at risk of developing several cancers,” said Dr. Penedo. “That ability, combined with a better understanding of how modifiable lifestyle factors, such as nutrition and physical activity, can reduce cancer risk will allow us to identify at-risk individuals early on and refer them to comprehensive lifestyle medicine and prevention programs such as those led by Dr. Crane at Sylvester.”
“In the United States, nearly 40% of cancer cases are associated with preventable risk factors, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco use,” said Dr. Crane. “Importantly, recent research suggests that practicing these healthy behaviors can attenuate cancer risk even in the presence of genetic mutations. The Diamond Protocol builds synergy between lifestyle medicine, genetics and screening for the greatest risk reduction for cancer.”
Behavior Modification and Patient Support
Beyond putting patients on a closely monitored screening and surveillance regimen, the Diamond Protocol provides an assessment of lifestyle behaviors and recommendations for modifications. This includes access to nutrition counselors, exercise physiologists and psychosocial support to help patients better cope with their identified risk.
As Dr. Sussman explained, “The hope is that by accessing all of these preventive care services available under the Diamond Protocol, patients will be less likely to be affected by cancer because they will be able to modify risk factors by changing their diet, exercising better, and having a better outlook and acceptance of their underlying disease.”
The family’s philanthropy will also help Sylvester to create a patient registry, allowing physician-researchers to identify, track and follow patients over time.
“Ultimately, we want to create better outcomes for those who get diagnosed with a genetic predisposition, like Jonny and our children,” said Susan Diamond. “We want our gift to be an impetus to not only identify potential patients but to create a protocol for people who have a hereditary predisposition or even a future diagnosis of cancer so they can have better outcomes.”
Earmarked Funds for Awards, TCRB
Understanding the importance of scientific research, the family allocated a portion of its gift to create the Diamond Award Endowment Fund. The fund will support a competitive, peer-reviewed grant program to award internal grants, known as Diamond Awards, to Sylvester’s physician-scientists and support translational research in genetic predisposition, genetic testing, and lifestyle management for risk reduction.
Lastly, the Diamond family earmarked a portion of its gift for the Transformational Cancer Research Building fund, which will support the construction of Sylvester’s 244,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art, premier cancer research facility. Slated to open in 2025, the 12-story facility on the campus of the Miller School will serve as a center for cancer research, innovation, wellness, and patient-focused care, all under one roof.
In gratitude for the Diamonds’ incredible generosity, a computational hub on the fourth floor of the Transformational Cancer Research Building, where the services of the Diamond Protocol will take place, will be named in their honor.
“We are genuinely appreciative of the Diamond family for supporting the innovative research our physician-scientists are doing to save lives,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center director the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “Sylvester’s mission has always been to pioneer groundbreaking cancer research, innovate, and advance cancer cures. The Diamond Hereditary Cancer Prevention Initiative takes that one step further by helping identify patients genetically predisposed to cancer and preventing disease before it occurs.”