NEW YORK, Nov. 20, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- More than 700 members of New York City's philanthropic, government, business and health care communities joined forces tonight as the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation hosted its Gala 2012 to Turn Lupus Research Upside Down. Held at The American Museum of Natural History, the world's largest gathering for lupus was hosted by Willie Geist, new co-host of NBC's Today Show and MSNBC's Morning Joe. The night raised $2.5 million to turn the tables on lupus with novel innovative research that is producing the pivotal discoveries to improve treatments and uncovering the root causes of lupus that can lead to a cure.
Five-time Tony award winner Audra McDonald captivated the audience with the breadth and versatility of her artistry as both a singer and an actress. But she captured their hearts with her expression of support. "I can only begin to understand the devastation that lupus can bring having watched a colleague cope with her mom's death from this disease. I wanted to perform for you tonight to help raise the funds needed to drive the most creative research that can turn the situation around for people with lupus as well as millions of others suffering from similar autoimmune diseases."
S.L.E. Lupus Foundation President Richard DeScherer commented, "The S.L.E. Lupus Foundation and the Lupus Research Institute are turning lupus research on its head, working with the world's finest scientific minds among academia and industry to solve what is the prototype for all autoimmune diseases."
DeScherer also announced that in addition to devoting funds raised to lupus research, the Foundation is donating $50,000 to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. "We have been committed to New York for 42 years – while we expand across the country and worldwide, New York will always be our home. And as New Yorkers, we want to help our neighbors get back on their feet."
Honorary Dinner Chair Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg addressed the crowd, noting, "New York has the most lupus laboratories, private sector lupus research produced, opportunities for lupus diagnosis, treatment and care and the most established and active outreach to combat racial disparities in lupus. The work of these groups over the past several decades has greatly contributed to helping our city assume that leadership role in the U.S. and worldwide."
Gala honorees Fern and Lenard Tessler were celebrated for their steadfast dedication to the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation and its Lupus Research Institute (LRI) in the relentless pursuit of improving lupus care through novel research. Lupus is a devastating autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans, 90 percent of whom are women -- with a two to three times greater risk among women of color.
In accepting the award presented by Board member, past Gala honoree, dear friend and lupus patient Carol Weisman, Fern commented, "Our family's lives were turned upside down when our niece was diagnosed with lupus at 15. As a young woman, Gillian is living her life with lupus with undaunted spirit but we want more – we are determined to give her the future she deserves and the best way we can is to support this organization that finds and funds the most groundbreaking research."
The Foundation's annual Scientific Leadership Award went to Dr. Henry Hess, Director, Immunology and Pharmacology, Research, TA Rheumatology, for EMD Serono, a subsidiary of Merck KgaA.
"The award recognizes Dr. Hess' vision in initiating an unprecedented partnership between EMD Serono and our organization to advance the most novel research that is leading to better treatment for lupus patients," said Dr. Peter Lipsky, Scientific Advisory Board member of the LRI.
"I'm extremely proud of this collaboration as a prime example of how industry, academia and non-profit can work together to offer a new approach to funding novel research that can speed development of new drugs for lupus," noted Dr. Hess. "While there has been a lot of progress in lupus research and therapy, we must continue to invest resources in organizations like the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation and the LRI. This group provides the forum for industry and academia to come together to build the knowledge that may translate into groundbreaking new therapies."
Congressman Bill Keating of Massachusetts, co-chair and founder of the new Congressional Lupus Caucus, sends greetings and congratulations to Dr. Hess and to EMD Serono, located in his state, honoring its work to help lupus patients and further lupus research.
Of his personal commitment to the lupus community, Congressman Keating promises to "do all that I can in Congress to get the word out and help further research efforts for this life threatening autoimmune disease."
Gala 2012 Dinner Chairs were Jennie & Richard DeScherer; Susan Golick & Alan Wasserman; Ronnie & Michael Kassan; Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg & Senator Frank R. Lautenberg; Andrea & Jeff Lomasky; Lisa & Mark Neporent; Linda & Seth Plattus; Beth & Alan Waldenberg and Carol & Michael Weisman.
New York luminaries supporting the event included Governor Mario Cuomo & Mrs. Matilda Cuomo; opera legend Jessye Norman; philanthropists Edward & Arlyn Gardner and socialite Karen Koeningsberg. A live auction conducted by world-renowned Christie's brought in many more members to the growing family of active combatants against lupus.
DeScherer concluded, "The support in this room tonight and throughout the year is what allows us to continue closing in on the cause and going for the cure. It is what allows us to keep fighting for a "Life Without Lupus."
About S.L.E. Lupus Foundation: The S.L.E. Lupus Foundation is the country's preeminent organization delivering direct patient services, public education and novel research at a national level. Founded more than 40 years ago in New York City by lupus patients and their families as the first nonprofit to serve the lupus community, it remains the cornerstone of comprehensive care in all five boroughs in the continuous battle for a Life Without Lupus.
SOURCE S.L.E. Lupus Foundation