A Weiss Move

Michael and Arlene Weiss Are Optimistic About Finding Treatment for Cancer Cachexia

Michael and Arlene Weiss like to reminisce about earlier days, but they don’t waste time living in the past. Instead, this forward-facing couple embrace the future with optimism and hope.

Mr. and Mrs. Weiss are longtime supporters of The James – they’ve attended many fundraising events and have been active supporters in many facets. Having lost both of their mothers to cancer, as well as many friends along the way, the Weisses wanted to do something that would have a positive effect for patients and their family members.

Recently, they wrote a check for $500,000 to support translational research in the basic science laboratory of Denis Guttridge, PhD, where he and his newly developed Cancer Cachexia Program are seeking to identify treatment for cancer cachexia, a muscle-wasting condition that compromises a patient’s quality of life due to weakness, fatigue and the inability to tolerate standard cancer care.

“We met Dr. (Arthur G.) James before the cancer hospital was built, when he cared for one of our family members,” recalls Mrs. Weiss. “He was so brilliant and dedicated – I remember his telling Michael and me about his vision for a hospital in Columbus, similar to Memorial Sloan-Kettering (where Dr. James completed a fellowship in 1946), dedicated to research as well as cancer care. If our gift in any way creates in others the feeling that they, too, might be able to help, then that’s a good thing and it makes us feel good,” she adds.

Michael, who is CEO and president of Express, notes that when the couple talked with Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of The James, they expressed a desire to support work that would have an immediate and visible effect on cancer patients and their families.

“My perspective is that we all have a responsibility to define for ourselves what it is that we have an obligation to do. Arlene and I know there are many worthy causes, but I’ve always felt that just giving money can sometimes be an abdication of responsibility,” Mr. Weiss explains. “We asked Dr. Caligiuri to help us find something ‘doable’ that we could take responsibility for – where we could step forward to make a true difference.”

When the couple learned about Guttridge’s work, they found that opportunity. The primary outcome of cancer cachexia is severe weight loss due to wasting of muscle mass as tumors progress. The devastating condition is most common in gastrointestinal cancers, such as pancreatic cancer.

Guttridge and his team are attempting to identify underlying mechanisms that tumors use to cause the decay of skeletal muscle. To date, they have discovered the role of a protein, NF-kappaB, that becomes activated in muscle cells, contributing to the wasting condition. Their hope is that NF-kappaB can be targeted for treatment of cancer cachexia and perhaps to other muscle-wasting diseases.

“In the three decades since we met Dr. James, so many big, important things have happened here in Columbus – things that are good for the people of this city – but none has had the impact on people’s lives as has the prominence of The James, which today is a world-class institution,” Mr. Weiss asserts. “When we wrote that check, it not only felt wonderful, but appropriate. We are optimistic about the future, and this gift reflects not only our belief in the future, but our hope to help build that future.”

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