An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By Michael Easterling | April 24, 2017
Ella Fitzgerald: A Life of Song with Soul
Ella Fitzgerald, known the world over as the First Lady of Song, would have celebrated her 100th birthday on April 25.  A friend of City of Hope, her legacy lives on in areas of our Duarte campus honoring her for her generous support of our diabetes research, through the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation. City of Hope is the only medical institution that the Foundation funds for diabetes research.  Fitzgerald died from complications of the disease in 1996.  

Fitzgerald, of course, lives on through her timeless music. Surviving challenging times and poverty in her youth, she went on to win 13 Grammy Awards, countless Downbeat Jazz Awards, the Kennedy Center Honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts. She performed her last concert at Carnegie Hall in 1991.
“Ella truly believed in the work that City of Hope is doing,” said Fran Morris-Rosman, executive director of the Foundation, based in Los Angeles.  “In Ella's later years, she was an insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetic, suffering from many complications.  Through the charitable foundation that Ella herself established, she wanted to support research that is focused on finding a cure for the disease that claimed her life.  She would be very pleased with the progress that's been made in the past 21 years.”  

Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of City of Hope’s Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism, and Chair, Translational Research and Cellular Therapeutics, was an early beneficiary of the Foundation’s funding, which supported diabetes research programs he oversaw, including the Diabetes fellowship program.  

Ella Fitzgerald by Katte Image courtesy of Katte Schindler
“The seed money provided by the foundation allowed us to deeper explore research into stem cells, with the hope that one day we could use these cells to treat diabetes patients,” Dr. Kandeel said. He said the advances in diabetes research and the speedy delivery of new therapies to patients has improved significantly since Ella passing.

“Treating diabetes used to be one size fits all,” he explained. “Diabetes has entered a new phase of cell therapy that has not happened before. We can now create tailored plans for patients based on their genetic makeup, so the treatment is more targeted and customized.”

Discoveries in the lab led to the possibility of islet cell transplantation. Many patients who have undergone the procedure remain diabetes free. Dr. Kandeel established City of Hope’s islet cell transplantation program in 2001, and today it is one of the nation’s leading programs for both production and distribution.

The Ella Fitzgerald Foundation has also been instrumental in funding the research of young investigators at City of Hope. “The Foundation started the careers of our scientists and their scientific endeavors,” Dr. Kandeel said.  

“As part of the young generation of scientists, it is extremely important for us to have the support of the generous Foundation to test our new ideas and new ways of thinking to understand how diabetes complications occur,” said Zhen Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor in City of Hope’s Department of Diabetes Complications and Metabolism.

Teresa Ku, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Translational Research and Cellular Therapeutics Research, is another investigator for whom the Foundation has been an invaluable resource.
“There are new strategies for treating diabetes that are emerging,” she said. “The future of diabetes care is very promising. The contributions of the Foundation has moved the field forward. Our lab has immensely benefitted. We are seeing new discoveries made possible through the Foundation’s funding.”
More information on Ella's charitable legacy can be found at
Learn more about how the Foundation has supported City of Hope’s diabetes research.

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