Former Model Ann Cullen Leaves $2.8 Million Estate Gift to UCI Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center
Former Model Ann Cullen Leaves $2.8 Million Estate Gift to UCI Sue & Gross Stem Cell Research Center
Ann Cullen lived what some might call a glamorous life.
One of two daughters of Academy Award-winning composer Heinz Roemheld, Cullen graduated from North Hollywood High, then attended the University of Southern California, where she majored in art.
Cullen became a runway model, showcasing the designs of DeDe Johnson, often on the runway at Robinson’s “Tea Room.’ She acted in feature films and television commercials, and occasionally showed up on games show hosted by her husband, Bill Cullen—shows like “The Price is Right.”
As a New York resident, she and husband, Bill, owned a 40-foot cabin cruiser, which they would sail along the eastern seaboard. When they moved to California, their first home was in Casiano Estates, at the top of Sepulveda Pass. Bill passed away in 1990 and Ann spent her final years in Corona del Mar, meeting friends for walks in the park and poker games.
In the end, according to her nephew, John Narz, she wanted to ensure that her estate would make a difference for others.
“She was very generous,” says Narz. ”She wanted to share what she had.”
Cullen, who passed away July 2018 at the age of 86, made the UCI Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center a beneficiary of her generosity, donating $2.8 million for research into strokes, cancer, and retinal regeneration. In the short term, seed grants, or small financial awards, will fund novel studies and, when concepts are validated, the resulting data will be used to obtain external funding for more detailed investigations.
Over the long term, the newly established William and Ann Cullen Endowment will ensure that money is available in perpetuity for stem cell investigations in the areas she designated. Milestones achieved as a result of this funding will serve as a lasting legacy to the Cullens.
The gift comes at a pivotal time for the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center. According to center director Aileen Anderson, Ph.D., studies initiated in the early days of stem cell research are now beginning to yield promising therapies. The center’s Alpha Stem Cell Clinic is currently enrolling patients for nine regenerative medicine and stem cell clinical trials related conditions such as retinal disease, cancer, and stroke.
With more trials on the horizon, the center is developing a phase I clinical trial unit, which will give the community access to promising stem cell treatments before they become widely available. In addition, the first application for a phase III clinical trial based on center research is being prepared for submission to the US Food & Drug Administration. In the midst of this progress, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state agency created by California voters, has nearly depleted the $3 billion it was allocated for stem cell research.
“CIRM funding has enabled UCI researchers to make significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of such conditions as spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s disease, and retinitis pigmentosa,” said Anderson. “Going forward, it will take more people like Ann Cullen to help us realize the potential of stem cells. Her gift makes a vital contribution to the ongoing operation and progress of stem cell research, and ultimately, to individual health. I’m thrilled and grateful for her generosity,” said Anderson.