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Donation helps fund testicular cancer research at Norris

(From left to right) Hamed Ahmadi, a postdoctoral research fellow; Sia Daneshmand, director of urologic oncology, USC Institute of Urology; John Willis, owner of Interloc Solutions; and Johnny Willis celebrate the donation by John Willis and his company to testicular cancer research at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. Johnny Willis was successfully treated for testicular cancer at Norris.

By Amy E. Hamaker

When John Willis discovered that his 25-year-old son Johnny had testicular cancer, he was understandably devastated. “When something like this happens, it’s enormous, and it’s difficult to try to process it all,” he said. 

Johnny knew he had a problem, but at first a local doctor and urologist did not recognize the condition. It was Johnny’s determination that led the Willises to Sia Daneshmand, associate professor of urology (clinical scholar) at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “I’m incredibly proud of Johnny, and very thankful we met Dr. Daneshmand,” recalled Willis.

“As we went through this process, it quickly became very apparent that Dr. Daneshmand is dedicated to what he does,” said Willis. “He’s so passionate and caring and really helped Johnny believe he would get through this. We thought, ‘What can we do to help in return?’” 

That question led Willis, co-founder of tech company Interloc Solutions with Mike Watson, to make a generous donation to help Daneshmand and his team at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center fully develop a comprehensive database of clinical and tissue sample data from testicular cancer patients. 

Daneshmand, who is also director of urologic oncology at USC Institute of Urology, and a renowned testis cancer expert, along with his team have developed a comprehensive institutional review board-approved database that captures clinical data for analysis. USC also houses one of the largest tissue banks for testis tumors led by previous efforts from Sue Martin, director of the Translational Pathology Core Facility of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center; the tissue bank was funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The challenge is to merge the two to better understand outcomes.

“We work collaboratively with departments of radiology, pathology, molecular epidemiology and medical oncology,” explained Daneshmand. “This helps us better understand modes of presentation, optimal treatment and follow-up regimens, and delineate specific issues related to long term survivors of testicular cancer, including fertility and hormonal factors.

“We have a team dedicated to testis cancer research, and at any one time we have at least half a dozen ongoing projects, and funding from extramural sources is extremely limited,” he continued. “Philanthropy like the Willis/Interloc donation helps us fund research fellows whose help is invaluable in our mission.”
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