UC San Diego: Iris and Matthew Strauss Give $2 Million to Endow Faculty Chair at UC San Diego

Iris and Matthew Strauss, longtime supporters of cancer research and patient care at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, have given $2 million to establish the Iris and Matthew Strauss Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Head and Neck Surgery to support excellence in research, education and clinical care.

“We believe in the missions of UC San Diego and UC San Diego Health and their commitment to the community, groundbreaking research and health care. UC San Diego Health is at the forefront of transformative health care innovation and practice, and we want to ensure that it is able to attract and retain world-class experts and provide the resources needed for it to continue to change the landscape of clinical care well into the future. We are proud to support UC San Diego Health and its important role as an international leader in head and neck surgery,” said Matthew Strauss.

To support excellence in research, education and clinical care at UC San Diego, Iris and Matthew Strauss have given $2 million to establish the Iris and Matthew Strauss Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Head and Neck Surgery. Photo courtesy of The Strauss Family.

Joseph A. Califano, III, MD, professor in the Department of Surgery, Division of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and Department of Radiation Medicine and Applied Sciences at UC San Diego School of Medicine, has been named the inaugural chair holder. An endowed chair is one of the highest honors that an academic institution can confer upon a faculty member. It recognizes excellence in their research and clinical practice.

“Dr. Califano is the kind of doctor one would like to have in a crisis. He is easy to talk to, explains everything and acknowledges the situation — not trying to make it better or worse than what it is. He is just with you,” said Iris Strauss.

“The uniqueness of Dr. Joe Califano is that he is a total care physician-scientist who follows patients’ health far beyond his surgical skills and is a net-worker par excellence,” said Matthew.

Califano’s appointment as the Strauss Chancellor’s Endowed Chair reflects his dedication to innovation and personalized patient care. He integrates molecular research into his clinical practice of head and neck surgical oncology, offering patients the latest in technologies and treatments available today.

As director of the Head and Neck Cancer Center and physician-in-chief at Moores Cancer Center, Califano has translated multiple discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, including the application of sequencing technologies to create an early detection method for human papillomavirus (HPV)-related and other head and neck cancers. He serves as principal investigator for clinical trials that explore early detection of head and neck cancers and well as molecular detection of recurrence.

Private support through an endowed chair is critical to supplement funding for cancer research. In 2021, head and neck cancer research at Moores Cancer Center received $14 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and $40 million in future committed funding from foundations and private philanthropy.

“Iris and Matthew are invaluable partners in our pursuit of better care for people who need head and neck surgery, part of treatment for some head and neck cancers,” said Califano. “This gift will allow us to continue transforming the way we understand and treat head and neck cancers through surgical interventions and I am eager to see what kinds of discoveries we make thanks to the Strauss family’s partnership.”

In 2018, Iris and Matthew Strauss donated $1 million to help launch a personalized cancer vaccine clinical trial, hoping that a breakthrough treatment could help patients like their daughter, Tamara, beat their disease. The family previously lost a daughter to ovarian cancer.

The couple are active members of the UC San Diego community. They sit on the UC San Diego Health Board of Advisors, Moores Cancer Center Board of Visitors and UC San Diego Campaign Cabinet.

At Moores Cancer Center, San Diego’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Califano has built a team that integrates oncologists, surgeons, speech therapists, nutritionists and other specialists needed to optimize care for patients with head and neck cancer by removing as much of their malignancy as possible while sparing normal tissue and function.

With more than 90 staff dedicated to head and neck cancer treatment and research, the Head and Neck Cancer Center cared for more than 13,000 patients in 2020, nearly double the number of patients just five years earlier.

It offers more than 20 active clinical trials, including advanced therapies developed by UC San Diego Health physician-scientists. This complements an integrative, multidisciplinary treatment approach that features minimally invasive surgery, reconstruction and rehabilitation, proton and other forms of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, molecular targeted therapies and personalized immunotherapy.

Califano’s gentle bedside approach and his ability to speak to patients in simple and compassionate language about complex and life-altering treatments are characteristics that his patients applaud and that have led to several “Top Doctors” awards. In addition, his interest in including minimally invasive treatment of tumors helps patients return to a sense of normalcy.

Philanthropic gifts, like the $2 million gift from Iris and Matthew Strauss, contribute to the Campaign for UC San Diego — a university-wide comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact. To learn more about supporting the Head and Neck Cancer Center, visit health.ucsd.edu/about/giving.