$10 Million Gift Will Drive Research, Trials of New Skin Cancer Treatments

Jerry Meyer and Roz Milstein Meyer

Roz Milstein and Jerry Meyer met in October 1971 in the Cross Campus Library at Yale. He was a fourth-year medical student. She was starting a doctorate in clinical psychology. Both were interested in community issues and in making society a better place. “We talked for five hours and found we shared a tremendous amount,” Jerome H. Meyer, M.D., recalls. “But we never thought back then that New Haven would be our home.”

Nonetheless, New Haven has remained at the core of their lives ever since that autumn evening. After marrying the following May, he began a residency in psychiatry and went on to practice in the city as a psychoanalyst. She finished her training and became a practicing psychologist, working with individuals and couples. They raised three children, who are now in their 20s and early 30s, and got involved in local education and arts organizations, helping to establish two of the city’s major educational and cultural programs.

Now the Meyers are turning their attention to health care and medical research. With a gift of $10 million to the School of Medicine, they are helping to expand the School’s research and treatment programs in melanoma, an often fatal skin cancer that has affected family members on both sides.

“Melanoma is one of the fastest growing and most deadly forms of cancer, and there are few options for people with advanced melanoma,” says Roslyn Milstein Meyer, Ph.D. “We’d like to see new treatments—effective treatments—developed, as well as new understanding of how cancer works.”

To that end, their gift will establish the Milstein Meyer Center for Melanoma Research and Treatment, with the goal of developing new treatments for melanoma. One relatively new approach that has proved promising is immunotherapy, which aims to use the immune system to treat disease, for example by training a patient’s T-cells to attack tumor cells.

Roz Meyer, a trustee of Yale-New Haven Hospital, is also a patient advocate for Yale’s NIH-funded Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Skin Cancer. She’s become excited by the work of Mario Sznol, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Ruth Halaban, Ph.D., senior research scientist in dermatology, and their colleagues in a half-dozen departments, who are pursuing new ways of diagnosing, classifying, and treating melanoma. Yale holds one of four SPORE Skin Cancer grants nationally.

According to Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., Ensign Professor of Medicine, Yale is ideally suited to attack melanoma. Yale has the top immunobiology research program in the country and is also well known for its strength in dermatology. (Department founder Aaron Lerner, M.D., Ph.D., discovered the hormone melatonin, and his work laid the foundation for skin cancer treatments as well as the modern science of dermatology.) The Medical School has built a major program in medical oncology in the last three years, recruiting close to a dozen new faculty members with expertise in all the major cancers.

“Those three groups can bring it all together,” says Alpern, adding that support for cancer research and care is a top priority in the Medical School’s development plan. “What we have in place is excellent, but we need to grow it.”

Sznol says the gift will enable the Yale program to expand and grow. The SPORE grant provides generous funding for basic laboratory and translational research, as well as limited funding for human studies. The next step—and the essential phase in the process to discover new treatments—is the development of more investigator-initiated clinical trials, which the Milstein Meyer Center will enable by providing funds for research nursing, data management, administrative and regulatory assistance, and other support.

Meyers consider their support for cancer research “a way to make something happen that otherwise would not have been possible.”

(April 11, 2008)

April 11, 2008