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Cardinal Fan's Gift to Support Stem Cell Research

Anthony (or Tony, as he preferred to be called) DiGenova grew up in a large family in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. The son of a barber who owned a shop where the Bank of America Center now towers, Tony dreamed of going to Stanford University. Although he did not attend, he loved Stanford football and always rooted for the Cardinal when they played the Big Game.

As a young man, Tony had the foresight to invest whatever money he had in real estate. Through the years he bought apartment buildings in San Francisco, Alameda, Oakland, and Sacramento. When he passed away in 2017 at the age of 94, he left part of his estate to Stanford Athletics, but the largest distribution of the trust that he built up over his lifetime went to stem cell research at Stanford.

With characteristic vision, Tony had become interested in the potential of stem cells and had the desire to see more stem cell research done in the United States. He was also concerned about a lack of federal funding. Known to be a generous man, he made sure to include his intention in his trust.

Danny Liles, who was Tony's partner of 30 years, helped administer the gift, which came as a surprise to the university. Tony's gift will support stem cell research across Stanford, including at the School of Medicine, the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and at two interdisciplinary units—ChEM-H and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute.

"This is a gift that will last far beyond the lifetimes of those who are in the institute now," says Irving Weissman, MD, director of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine.

The funds will support research by faculty members, medical students, and graduate students whose work is pioneering new ways to ease suffering from disorders like heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and cancer. Other portions of Tony's gift will update critical stem cell sorting equipment and go to funding seed grants.

"Seed grants are essential funding for stem cell researchers because they allow scientists to pursue research paths that potentially have big payoffs, but are at too early a stage of development to get funding by the NIH or other major institutions," Dr. Weissman says.

"We are extremely grateful to Mr. DiGenova and his partner for their vision and their commitment to that vision," says Dr. Weissman. "We only wish we could have thanked Mr. DiGenova in person, before he passed away, and had a conversation with him about his intentions."

Tony leaves behind a legacy that will support pioneering advancements at Stanford, a leader in stem cell research for the past quarter-century. Stanford is establishing the foundation for the promising and exciting field of regenerative medicine, which endeavors to harness the understanding of how the body renews itself to battle some of the most serious diseases of our time.

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