University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)


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March 2015 - UPCI Mourns the Loss of UPCI Council Member and Supporter Sally Levin

Sally LevinSally Levin, the matriarch of the family who transformed a single store in Mount Pleasant – Levin Furniture – into the largest furniture retailer in the region, died Saturday of colon cancer. She was 88.

Born May 29, 1926, Mrs. Levin was the daughter of Janet and Hyman Marchel, a shoe salesman in Mount Pleasant. She attended public school in Connellsville and Smith College in Northampton, Mass., where she majored in history.

After graduating in 1947, Mrs. Levin sold women's clothing at the former Saks Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh, then moved to Mount Pleasant after marrying Leonard Levin in 1949. While also helping to raise the couple's five children, Mrs. Levin began working in the family's original furniture store. Alongside her husband, she oversaw every aspect of the family business, from writing ad copy to attending furniture markets and serving as interior decorator at the store, including designing and decorating elaborate window displays that became a part of the town's Christmas tradition.

The Levins were generous philanthropists throughout Western Pennsylvania. Mrs. Levin was inspired to join the UPCI Council as one of its original members following her own lymphoma diagnosis and the death of her husband from complications of lung cancer. She had also lost both parents and a brother to the disease, and viewed her service on the UPCI Council as a way of giving back in the spirit of helping others affected by cancer.

In 2012, Mrs. Levin's children established the Sally M. Levin Endowed Fund for Innovative Cancer Research at UPCI to celebrate her accomplishments, both as a businesswoman and a cancer survivor. Created as a major legacy gift, the funds provide seed money towards innovative cancer research projects led by investigators with original ideas. The fund is especially helpful to young investigators at the start of their careers, as it supports preliminary studies that enable them to compete for large federal grants.

In addition to her contributions to UPCI, Mrs. Levin was a generous supporter of the arts and education. She was a charter member of the Westmoreland County Museum of Art from 1970 to 1976, served on the Mount Pleasant school board, and contributed generously to the Mount Pleasant Library. She was also a major donor to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, City Theatre, the Carnegie Museum, and the Carnegie Library.

She was also a benefactor of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, and served on the board of Jewish Residential Services where she was active in the development of the Howard Levin Clubhouse, named after her son. The program gives mentally ill adults opportunities to practice social skills that can help them find and keep a job.

Mrs. Levin is survived by her brother, Jack Marchel, and by four of her children: Janet, Ann, Robert and Rachel Levin. She was preceded in death by her husband and by her son Howard.

The funeral will be private. A memorial service and celebration of her life will be held later this year. Contributions can be made to the Sally M. Levin Endowed Fund for Innovative Cancer Research at UPCI (412-623-4700;; or the Sally Levin Fund for the Howard Levin Clubhouse in care of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh (234 McKee Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213).

View Pittsburgh Post-Gazette obituary

View The Tribune Review obituary

February 2015 - UPCI Mourns the Loss of Dr. Jules Heisler, Founding UPCI Administrative Director

Dr. Jules Heisler, 67, passed away at his home in Durham, NC on January 18, 2015 after a nine month battle with lung cancer. Ironically, Jules spent most of his professional career battling cancer in a different way. He began his career as a consultant to the National Cancer Institute. He then went on to work for several academic cancer centers, including at the University of Kentucky, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, and Duke University. He spent 18 years at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, where he was the founding Administrative Director. In that role, he helped build UPCI from its inception into a nationally recognized institution of cancer care and research. In 2006, Jules and his wife Doris relocated to Durham, North Carolina to be closer to his two granddaughters and to enjoy the warmer temperatures of the south. Those warmer temperatures allowed him to pursue, year round, one of his favorite pastimes – golf. Jules spent many sunny days on various North Carolina golf courses, perfecting his game and enjoying the company of friends. At various other times in his life, Jules was also an avid tennis player and runner. In fact, he completed several marathons, including the Pittsburgh Marathon. After retiring, Jules and his wife also enjoyed traveling with friends. They visited China, the south of France, and made repeated trips to Aruba and Spain.

Jules truly embodied the American dream. His parents were survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Jules was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war. He and his parents came to the United States when he was four years old. He grew up in the Bronx, New York with little money and few resources. However, his quick intellect, drive and irreverence gave him the tools to succeed. He earned a bachelor's degree from the City College of New York, an MBA from the Bernard M. Baruch College, and a PhD in Higher Education Administration from the University of Kentucky. From there, his career and his many successes took off.

Jules is survived by his wife of 47 years, Doris, his daughters, Jennifer and Stacey, his granddaughters, Anna and Katie, his sons-in-law, Matt and Roy, and his brother, Peter. The family requests that, if desired, donations be made to the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the University of North Carolina Lineberger Cancer Center, or the Markey Cancer Foundation at the University of Kentucky. Donations can be marked for patient and family support or for lung cancer research.

September 2014 - Research Tour: Free to Breathe Advocacy Summit Group Visits UPCI Lung Cancer Research Labs

Members of the Free To Breathe Advocacy Summit Group will be touring the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the Lung Cancer Program laboratories to learn more about the approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment that researchers use to study lung cancer.

Dr. Nancy Davidson, Dr. Mark Socinski and Dr. Timothy Burns will welcome about 70 members of the group Free to Breathe on Friday, September 19 from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Free to Breathe is an organization dedicated to funding lung cancer research, ensuring patients have access to clinical trials and advocating for the latest treatments for lung cancer patients. The group is made up of doctors, patients, caregivers and other advocates whose goal is to double lung cancer survival by the year 2022.

The goals of the UPCI Lung Cancer Program are to define molecular pathways that contribute to the development and progression of lung and thoracic malignancies; improve therapy for thoracic cancers; identify individuals at high risk for thoracic cancer to improve early detection; and conduct clinical research studies in thoracic cancers.

August 2014 - UPCI is Awarded Two New T32 Training Grants from the National Institutes of Health

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Training Grants support pre-doctoral, post-doctoral, and short-term research training experiences in specified areas of biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research. UPCI investigators were recently awarded two new T32 training grants to support pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows in cancer-related research disciplines.

John M. Kirkwood, MD, Co-Leader of the UPCI Melanoma Program, directs the new Training Program in Skin Biology and Cancer (T32CA175294), which provides state-of-the-art interdisciplinary basic research training for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who seek a career in the strongly interwoven skin biology/skin cancer field. Specifically, this training program offers pre- and post-doctoral fellows a unique opportunity to obtain by way of molecular, immunologic, and bioengineering studies, important scientific insights into the biology of skin regeneration, inherited skin disorders, and skin cancer. Co-leaders of the T32 are Alan Wells, MD, DMSc, and Lisa Butterfield, PhD. Applicants may contact Victoria Alisasis by email at or by phone at 412-623-7708 to learn more about the program.

Jian-Min Yuan, MD, PhD, Co-Leader of the UPCI Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program, and Lesley Butler, MSPH, PhD co-direct the new Translational Research Training in Cancer Etiology and Prevention Program (T32CA186873). This program is focused on improving cancer prevention and control by translating novel discoveries from observational studies and laboratory experiments to interventional trials in clinical and community settings. Post-doctoral fellows supported through this mechanism will be trained in understanding the role of environmental exposures and genetic and other physiological factors in the development and progression of cancer in humans. They will complete cross-disciplinary coursework in the areas of translational, observational, and interventional research and clinical trials, and will gain hands-on experience through mentored research projects. The Program Steering Committee will use the following criteria to evaluate applicants: career interests in cancer etiology and prevention research compatible with faculty interest and expertise; positive letters of recommendation; an outstanding academic record; prior publication record and other evidence of a commitment to a likely successful career in research; the ability to recognize important research problems and a demonstrated capacity to seek solutions; intellectual integrity; and enthusiasm. One of the most important criteria for acceptance will be the candidate's clear career plans and potential for independent research in an academic setting. For further information, contact Brooke Spencer, T32 Program Administrator, at or 412-864-7861.

These two recently funded T32s add to the growing list of current UPCI training grant opportunities.

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