Estate gift will transform University of Florida oncology program into comparative research center

A multimillion-dollar gift to the University of Florida Veterinary Oncology Program and Colorado State University from the estate of Lawrence G. Laiks—a dentist—and his wife Ann Laiks, who was a dental assistant, could be a game-changer in the fight against cancer in animals and humans.

By Emily Singler

The University of Florida Veterinary Oncology Program recently received a multimillion-dollar gift from the estate of Lawrence G. Laiks, DDS, PA, who was a dentist, and his wife, Ann Laiks, who was a dental assistant—fellow healthcare professionals who were also animal lovers and philanthropists. 

Rowan Milner, BVSc, PhD, professor of small animal oncology and director for clinical and translational research at the university, describes them as “very grateful clients” who were referred to the oncology program for their dog’s treatment.  

Milner was not directly involved in the Laiks’ dog’s care, but he kept in touch with them over the years as he conducted immunotherapy research, created a canine hemangiosarcoma vaccine that is currently in clinical trials, and became chair of the department of oncology.  

The charitable trust set up by the Laiks reached out to Milner after Lawrence Laiks passed away in his early 90s last year to indicate that the couple had wished for part of their estate to benefit oncology research at the University of Florida and Colorado State University.  

Laiks “wanted something that would really make a difference in the health of animals,” Milner said. And the size of this gift “really does change things,” as it will allow the oncology program to transform into a true comparative oncology center.   

Specifically, the funds will allow for the hiring of post-docs who can be fully devoted to the research aspect of the program, since faculty also have teaching and clinical responsibilities. The gift will also allow for more adequate staffing of clinical trials to work more efficiently. Graduate students and veterinary students will participate directly and publish their research as a direct result of the Laiks’ charitable gift.  

Advancing veterinary and pediatric oncology research 

Veterinary oncology research is translatable to the treatment of aggressive cancers such as osteosarcoma in children, as highlighted by the veterinary oncology program’s position within the university’s Health Sciences Center and its connection to the pediatric oncology group.  

In both animals and humans, Milner reports, there has been no improvement in clinical outcomes for osteosarcoma in the past 40 years. This multifaceted and deadly disease will be a target of study, and thanks to the Laiks’ grant, the oncology program will have more bandwidth and resources.  

Exploring unanswered questions about osteosarcoma 

Questions they wish to answer include why the disease does not respond to ganglioside vaccines that have shown success in the treatment of melanomas—these are also currently in clinical trials.   

Researchers will use spatial genomics to look at the many factors of this disease in context, including genetic predispositions and how the tumor cells interact with other cells in the body. 

Macrophages, for example, have been determined to be important in monitoring the tumor environment and may contribute to chemotherapy resistance in some osteosarcoma cells.  

Learn more about UF clinical trials 

Milner encourages all veterinary professionals to visit the UF clinical trials website to learn more about the research being conducted and see what may be available for their clients and patients.  

The therapies being studied may change the face of cancer treatment for animals, and in some cases, for humans as well. “Clinical trials are a real option to standard-of-care treatment for cancers that are hard to treat,” Milner explains.  

With help from the Laiks grant, hopefully future clinical trials will yield breakthrough results in the fight against cancer.  

Further reading 


Photo credit: © Scott Thompson E+ via Getty Images Plus  

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 



Subscribe to NEWStat