Over $9.5 million in philanthropic funds advances cancer research

Albuquerque, NM –A transformational gift from the Surface Family Trust is enabling the UNM Cancer Center and the School of Medicine to recruit some of the world’s most talented cancer researchers to important faculty positions. The gift is one of extraordinary generosity: it marshals more than $9.5 million in funds to establish endowed chairs and professorships for cancer research at the UNM Cancer Center and the School of Medicine.

The Surface Family Trust is the creation of the late Victor Surface, a renaissance man with a keen interest in cutting-edge cancer research, and his wife, the late Ruby Hansen Surface. Their daughter, Carolyn Surface, one of two trustees, has worked hard to find the best home for funds from the Trust. She has also made her own generous philanthropic contribution to the UNM Cancer Center, adding to the total gift and amplifying her parents’ legacy.

“I had many conversations with Victor Surface, and knew he wanted his money to go ‘where it would make a transformational difference in cancer research in New Mexico,’” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, Director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “We are incredibly proud and grateful that the Surface family chose UNM Cancer Center as the recipient of a gift that will indeed make a difference in many, many lives for years to come. As Victor and his family understood and believed, the research we do at the UNM Cancer Center translates into new and better diagnostic and treatment options for patients and, ultimately, moves us closer to finding cancer cures.”

The Surface family’s gift is already having an impact. In recent months, two new faculty members have been recruited to UNM as endowed professors: Vittorio Cristini, PhD, the Victor & Ruby Hansen Surface Professor in Molecular Modeling of Cancer, and Ashwani Rajput, MD, the Victor & Ruby Hansen Surface Professor in Gastrointestinal Cancers.

Dr. Cristini, a leading expert in the mathematical modeling of cancer, is a Professor in the Departments of Pathology and Chemical Engineering. Dr. Cristini’s work is helping cancer researchers better understand the dynamics underlying tumor progression and the response of cancer tumors to chemotherapies.

Dr. Rajput, an expert in gastrointestinal malignancies, is Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology and an Associate Professor in the Department of Surgery. Dr. Rajput’s research focuses on identifying and characterizing molecular targets that contribute to colon cancer malignancy; he is also active in population science initiatives that seek to prevent and control cancer at the community level.

“Thanks to the exceptional generosity of the Surface family, we have brought two outstanding cancer researchers on the cutting edge of their fields to New Mexico, and have active national campaigns underway to bring more new recruits to the UNM Cancer Center. In the coming months and years, we will be recruiting top faculty in key areas such as breast and women’s cancers, hematologic malignancies, cancer prevention and cancer health disparities, molecular therapeutics and drug discovery and DNA repair and epigenetics,” noted Dr. Willman. “It’s an exciting time for us, and I think Victor would be thrilled to see our progress.”

“I know my parents would be pleased to see how their lifetime frugality is paying off,” said Carolyn Surface. “It is so gratifying to realize that the legacy they created could benefit millions of people.”

The Surfaces had an interesting and varied life. Married at age 20, Victor and Ruby Surface graduated from Utah State University in 1938 after an extended research stint on the Navajo reservation near Gallup. (Their time in New Mexico sparked a lifelong love of the land and people here.)

Victor became a soil conservation specialist for the federal government, a position deemed so important that he was deferred from the draft. He subsequently went to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development as an agriculture information officer, traveling and living around the world. Victor and Ruby Surface eventually settled in Albuquerque, where Carolyn Surface moved in 1997 to help care for them.

UNM Cancer Center contact informationDorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, (505) 797-6673, dhornbeck@jameskorenchen.com Audrey Manring, UNM Cancer Center, (505) 925-0486, amanring@salud.unm.edu


Contact: Luke Frank, 272-3322