Suran Estate Gift Fights Cancer in Pets and Humans

Barbara Suran

Barbara Suran with her poodle, Ch. Foxmore Naughty Nadine.

A child develops bone cancer. A beloved dog needs radiation therapy. A new, targeted anticancer drug may save a pet’s life. Research completed in the new Barbara A. Suran Comparative Oncology Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine could benefit each of these patients.

The Institute’s oncology program is based on an understanding that investigating spontaneous cancers in pets will become part of the global effort to generate new information about cancer and will lead to new treatments for animals and humans.

An estate gift from Barbara Suran also established the Barbara A. Suran Chair in Comparative Oncology. David Vail, DVM, professor in the Department of Medical Sciences, was awarded the position in February. Vail investigates novel anti-cancer drugs, determining appropriate doses for animals, comparing drug outcomes and informing future clinical trials for humans.

Cancer is the No. 1 cause of death for dogs and cats, he said. “Cancer is 200 different diseases,” he added, “and the usual population is older dogs and cats. It’s an area where a lot of work still remains to be done. It’s challenging. It’s exciting. It’s hopeful. And it advances the science for both animal and human medicine.”

A lifelong interest in science and medicine, both veterinary and human, motivated Suran, a Milwaukee native, to name the School in her will. “I want the school to be able to attract the best scientists, so we can conquer this horrible disease,”she said. Suran was diagnosed with cancer only two weeks after she completed her estate agreement with the School. She also lost two of her beloved champion standard poodles to cancer, one to osteosarcoma and the other to acute leukemia.

“The day she signed the agreement, Barbara was smiling from ear to ear, knowing the creation of the Barbara A. Suran Comparative Oncology Research Institute would be the first of its kind at a school of veterinary medicine,” Dean Daryl Buss said. “Barbara’s institute will be a model for the country, but its creation happened too soon.”

The Comparative Oncology Chair funding supports research related to cancer cures and treatments that will benefit animals and humans. “This is an incredible step forward for the school,” Buss said. “Naming a faculty chair in oncology, combined with the Barbara A. Suran Fund for Comparative Oncology Research Excellence, will allow us to recruit the profession’s very best experts, who in turn help attract other quality faculty. We deeply appreciate Barbara’s gesture and the confidence she showed in our oncology program and in our school.”

Suran attended the UW-Madison and was a student of science and veterinary and human medicine who considered becoming a veterinarian. She welcomed turtles, tropical fish, goldfish and later standard and miniature poodles into her life. “I’m hoping Wisconsin can become the leader in cancer research,” she said before her death in 2008. “I’d like my gift to make Wisconsin No. 1 in this field, and to benefit both dogs and people.”

Tania Banak contributed to this story.