VIDEO: Future cure for cancer focus of The Hormel Institute dedication

Published 11:35 am Saturday, October 4, 2008

There was much fanfare and numerous thank yous at The Hormel Institute Expansion Celebration on Friday, but the true stars were the excited faces seated in their green polo shirts in the back, the ones who did little of the talking.

The 66-year-old research facility has not only added a $23.4 million addition, but will eventually employ 100 new staff, most who have been given a big assignment — finding a cure for cancer.

“Even though cancer is called a disease, it is many diseases,” said Dr. Zigang Dong, executive director of The Hormel Institute, on Friday. “Therefore, we needed to really focus on different kinds of cancer. We need different kinds of expertise to conquer it.”

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Humble and smiling as always, the director promised a crowd of hundreds of dignitaries and supporters they would continue their ongoing pursuit of the prevention, treatment and, hopefully, a cure for cancer.

“It’s because of you we will work until answers are found and cancer is conquered,” Dong said. “A cancer-free world one day will come.”

The ribbon-cutting event and dedication brought officials from across the state and even country, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar; Dr. Robert Bruininks, president of the University of Minnesota; Dr. Glenn Forbes, CEO of Mayo Clinic; and James Hormel, the son of institute founder, Jay C. Hormel.

The Hormel Foods heir said many think of his father as a visionary.

“I think that he was more of an engineer,” Hormel said. “He was results-oriented. He liked things to be saved rather than expended.

“This is indeed living proof of the success of innovation,” he said of the institute. “The cure of cancer — it’s a wonderful innovation. But when? I have every confidence, Dr. Dong, you, your associates, your staff, will succeed.”

Pawlenty said he was impressed with the continued support of past officials.

“I think it’s a proud and wonderful moment when you see generations of Hormel who say, ‘I’m going to give back,’” he said. “We are a state that is not the biggest, we’re not the cheapest — but we need to be the smartest. This is a state of innovation.”

Several families spoke about their past and current battles with the disease, including Abbey Bauleke, whose father rolled her wheelchair onto the stage to speak. She is nearing the end of a long battle with leukemia.

“Thank you everyone for being here today,” she said. “We need to find a cure today.”

Amanda Seibel Dettmann, whose father, District Judge Michael Seibel, died of kidney cancer, said her family pushed on through his diagnosis and death after nearly two years with the disease.

“As a family, we helped my dad fight the tough battle,” she said. “We hope future families will be spared the heartbreak…”

Current stakeholders of the institute praised the facility and its staff, including Jeff Ettinger, Hormel Foods president, CEO and chairman of the board. His company donated $5 million toward the expansion.

“Dr. Dong and his team are being globally renowned for their work,” he said. “We made the donation because these aren’t just any jobs.”

Richard L. Knowlton, chairman of the Hormel Foundation, was honored for his support of the facility with a large plaque, which will be displayed in the lobby. He explained during the celebration that the institute holds a special place in his heart because he grew up literally where it stands.

“As a young boy, I lived about two blocks from here,” he said, emotional about the experience. “It’s a special sentimental moment for me.”

The Hormel Foundation also contributed $13.4 million to the expansion, and the Austin community and region donated $1.5 million. The expansion, started in 2006, adds a new two-story research building for 20 state-of-the-art research laboratories. Other additions include a large seminar room to seat 140, library, several conference rooms, information technology space for the Blue Gene/L supercomputer, instrument rooms and updating of research support areas.

Tours were available for small groups, and more are scheduled for dates following the dedication.

Dong said Friday that he and his team of researchers are up to the task of finding a cure for a disease that has plagued millions, but it is really more complex than that.

He explained that another focus in the battle of cancer should be prevention. Forty percent of cancers can be stopped; 40 percent can be treated.

“Fortunately, I think most of the cancer is preventable,” he said.

Dong said, particularly in the U.S., that smoking is a huge problem, attributing to 21 percent of cancers. Another form, skin cancer, is also easily averted.

Some types of cancer, like pancreatic, pose a tougher challenge.

“It’s very difficult to prevent,” he said. “The survival time is usually a few months.”

Dong said the expansion and additional staff will allow for more cancer specialists, particularly with skin, breast, prostate and colon.

Seeing a bright future for The Hormel Institute, Dong could not contain his enthusiasm about what is to come.

“This is a time for us to celebrate,” he said.