Diane and Tim Bowden leave a legacy for cancer biology students at the Arizona Cancer Center

Tim and Diane Bowden
Tim and Diane Bowden

Cancer has claimed the lives of several of Tim and Diane Bowden’s loved ones. Their losses helped drive the adventure-loving couple, who celebrated 40 years of marriage this year, to map out a plan that honors their family, and that will perpetuate Tim’s lifelong work to prevent and cure cancer.

Tim Bowden, Ph.D., is director of basic science research at the Arizona Cancer Center and professor of cell biology, anatomy, radiation oncology, pharmacology and toxicology, and molecular and cellular biology. He and Diane, who were high school sweethearts, married after college. Diane has a degree in sociology and anthropology from the University of Cincinnati and she studied management information systems at The University of Arizona. She was the financial software coordinator for Carondelet Health Network, and she now manages projects there part-time.

When you meet the Bowdens, it’s obvious they share one life as a couple. They enjoy many of the same hobbies. They have traveled the world together, learned the art of fly fishing, run marathons, rafted and kayaked in Alaska, and back-packed extensively. But one of their proudest achievements together was to establish the Tim and Diane Bowden Predoctoral Endowment in Cancer Biology at the Arizona Cancer Center through the UA Foundation’s planned giving office.

Arizona Cancer Center Director David S. Alberts, M.D., says, “Tim Bowden is not only one of the most senior and elite scientists in the cancer research world, but he and his wife Diane are also the most loyal supporters of the Arizona Cancer Center. Their remarkable gift to the Center serves as an example to all of us that philanthropy starts at home, and we’re thankful this is ‘home’ for the Bowdens.” He adds, “We toast to their wonderful spirit of giving and loyalty.”

In the 1980s Tim and his colleague Eugene Gerner, Ph.D., developed the Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program. “The Program has graduated 40 students. All of them have gone on to receive significant postdoctoral training, and they are settling into careers in areas such as academia, the biotech industry and the pharmaceutical industry,” says Tim. The program currently has 27 students who are earning Ph.D.s, and four of those students are also earning M.D. degrees.

As chair of the program, Tim is responsible for finding funding for the first-year students. He says while he has always been successful, it’s the most difficult aspect of the program. He notes that current funding sources from grants and the University aren’t secured for the future. The Bowdens’ gift will provide scholarships in perpetuity for three to four first-year students each year. The gift will also fund the Bowden Biology Lecture Series. “We think the future of cancer research is in training students to take up the sword and be the next generation of cancer researchers,” says Tim. Diane adds, “What’s great is that many of these students, after they graduate, will go on to become professors like Tim, and they will have graduate students as well. By giving them this support, it will help to increase the number of scientists doing cancer research.”

Tim lost a step-father to metastatic lung cancer, and his mother died of stomach cancer. Breast cancer claimed the life of Diane’s mother, and her father died of lymphoma. Her father, Diane says, “had the pleasure of meeting a number of the cancer biology students when he came out to visit us, and he was always impressed by their enthusiasm and their dedication.” It is in memory and in honor of their parents that they have chosen to endow this gift.

“We’ve been affected by cancer, and what actually motivated me to go into cancer research was watching my brother-in-law, my sister’s first husband, die of Hodgkin’s disease when he was 23 years old. At that time, they were just learning how to treat the disease,” says Tim. “So like many people, my career has been somewhat determined by life experiences.” His major areas of focus have been skin cancer causation and prevention, and prostate cancer.
Tim earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Ohio Wesleyan University (cum laude) in 1967, and a Ph.D. in experimental oncology from the University of Wisconsin. He started his career in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1974, using mouse cells to study how DNA damage and repair mechanisms work. He served as a staff fellow at the National Cancer Institute from 1976 to 1978 and was then recruited by the UA Department of Radiation Oncology.

Tim has collaborated with Drs. David Alberts, Janine Einsphar and Steve Stratton to identify molecular targets for the chemoprevention of skin cancer. He is also working with Drs. Anne Cress, Ray Nagle and Suzanne Stratton at the Center to discover more effective ways to diagnose and treat prostate cancer. “The success of the research I do, and the success of the Cancer Biology Program, is not just due to me; it is from the contributions of a lot of faculty,” says Tim as he reflects back on the past 28 years. He also quickly credits Anne Cione, program coordinator sr., with keeping the Cancer Biology Program running and taking care of the graduate students.

The students remain near and dear to Tim and Diane’s hearts – evident by the fact that Tim serves on 20 Ph.D. committees. “We don’t have children, so the graduate students are sort of surrogate children. The nice thing is you can leave them when you leave work; you don’t have to take them home with you,” jokes Tim. Diane says, “There’s mutual admiration there – like the admiration my father had for Tim. He was very proud of his dedication and contributions to cancer research.”