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Roberts Family to Donate $15M to Build Cancer Center

A $15 million contribution toward fighting cancer by Ralph J. and Brian L. Roberts will be announced Wednesday night amid pillars of light at the University of Pennsylvania.

The donation will fund the creation of a center for eradicating tumors with very precise beams of radiation in a process called proton therapy.

Brian L. Roberts is CEO of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable-system operator. His wife, Aileen, is fighting breast cancer. He is a 1981 graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

His father, Ralph, is founder and former chairman of the board of Comcast. He is a 1941 graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Six pillars of light will outline the site where the 75,000-square-foot Roberts Proton Therapy Center will be built at gift and naming ceremonies that begin at 5:30 p.m.

The Roberts family had been in discussions with the university about how to make a contribution to its academic, sports or medical activities when Aileen Roberts was diagnosed with her cancer two days after the close of the cable-television industry’s biggest event, the National Show, in April.

Comcast executive vice president and legal counsel David L. Cohen is chairman of the board of Penn Medicine, which operates three hospitals and the university’s medical school, and further discussion led to the funding of the proton-therapy center.

Breast cancer is not one of the malignancies most abetted by proton therapy, however, Brian L. Roberts said, although Aileen Roberts’ cancer is physically close to her heart. It’s most helpful to children, whose organs are close together, and senior citizens.

Nonetheless, “We’re the lucky ones and we know it, and the chance to say it tonight makes this one of the highlights of my life,” he added.

The center will give “tens of thousands of patients along the East Coast” access to the potentially life-saving proton treatments, he estimated.

This will be the first proton-therapy center in the Northeast, Roberts said. Cladding against the radiation beams requires facilities to be built underground, he added, making it difficult to find space in a city such as New York.

The center will be the “jewel in the crown” of Penn Medicine’s cancer-treatment facilities, university president Amy Gutmann said. She estimated that 1 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year.

Comcast and the university are both based in Philadelphia.