A $5 million grant from the Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Foundation will advance OHSU’s efforts to develop new, nonsurgical treatments for malignant brain tumors and to share its unique knowledge with the international medical community.
The Driskill Foundation’s grant supports OHSU’s Neuro-Oncology and Blood-Brain Barrier Program, led by neurosurgeon Edward A. Neuwelt, M.D. Thirty years ago, Neuwelt developed the world’s first effective clinical procedure for outwitting the so-called blood-brain barrier, the membrane of tightly coupled endothelial cells lining the blood vasculature throughout the brain to protect its vital functions from potentially toxic outside agents – including chemotherapy drugs. Neuwelt’s blood-brain barrier disruption (BBBD) therapy involves the use of a sugar alcohol (mannitol) to temporarily shrink the cells in this membrane, enabling chemotherapy drugs to reach the brain through an intra-arterial infusion. Neuwelt has achieved excellent long-term survival results with BBBD in patients with central nervous system lymphoma, primitive neuro-ectodermal tumors and germ cell tumors, and is working on expanding the therapy to additional tumor types.
The Walter S. & Lucienne Driskill Foundation is a Chicago-based philanthropic organization focused strongly on healthcare and children’s causes. Representatives said this grant is primarily intended to advance the BBBD team’s pioneering studies in the use of iron-oxide nanoparticles to study tumor growth through magnetic resonance imaging, and in the development of reliable ways to protect the brain from the spread of breast, lung and melanoma cancers.
“As I told my fellow board members, it is my feeling that the work being done at OHSU, the work they propose to do in the future, the facilities they have available and the teams of people involved all point in a direction that would make Walter and Lucienne Driskill proud and happy to support,” said Ronald L. Barnard, executive director of the Driskill Foundation.
Barnard said the grant underscores his confidence in Neuwelt’s core team, which consists of Nancy D. Doolittle, Ph.D., R.N. (head of clinical research); Leslie L. Muldoon, Ph.D., (head of basic science and pre-clinical research); and Lisa Bennett, M.P.A. (program manager). This team coordinates a multidisciplinary BBB research and clinical care program that serves patients, manages clinical drug trials, performs basic science and trains medical professionals.
“The Driskill Foundation’s investment in our program is nothing short of transformational,” Neuwelt said. “Although we can measure its value in dollars, there is no way to put a price tag on the impact it will have around the world. Funding through federal research grants is essential, but private support of this magnitude will give us the flexibility we need to perform studies that are absolutely critical to our progress yet fall outside the parameters of our federal grants. The Driskill Foundation funds will allow us to seize new opportunities, take some calculated risks and produce results that, ultimately, will leverage the additional federal funding we need to keep moving forward.”
The first $1 million of the grant was awarded last fall and is already funding international educational outreach efforts and new clinical research projects. The additional funds will support those initiatives, as well as establish an OHSU fellowship program to train neurologists and neurosurgeons to perform the BBBD technique. The ultimate training goal is to spawn a network of other BBBD training centers across the nation like OHSU’s that focus on encouraging more research at the interface of basic science and clinical care.
“Ed Neuwelt’s pioneering BBBD work is among the most important translational research projects bridging modern oncology and neurology,” said Dennis Bourdette, M.D., chair of the OHSU Department of Neurology. “Through his tireless advocacy and entrepreneurial spirit, Ed is almost singlehandedly responsible for the growth in prominence of BBBD therapy across the country and around the world. This grant will give him the support he needs to keep that momentum building – to the benefit of brain tumor patients everywhere.” Other key supporters of Neuwelt’s work include the National Institutes of Health, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. “Such a broad range of federal, industrial and private funders reflects an ideal balance,” Bourdette said.
Allan Price, president of the OHSU Foundation, said the grant reflects the worldwide impact of OHSU’s research at its best. “The Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Foundation is a national funder that recognizes something special is going on in Oregon. We’re grateful for their transforming philanthropic investment, which will allow Dr. Neuwelt and his team to export pioneering research and clinical care to other centers across the country while opening up new avenues of research here at OHSU. We know great things will come from this partnership.”
The OHSU Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that exists to secure private philanthropic support to advance Oregon Health & Science University’s vital missions, and to invest and manage gifts responsibly to honor donors’ wishes. The foundation raises funds from individuals, companies, foundations and organizations, and invests and manages gifts in accordance with donors’ wishes.
The Walter S. and Lucienne Driskill Foundation is dedicated to furthering the goals and interests of Mr. and Mrs. Driskill through philanthropic support of organizations involved in research, development and use of medical treatments and medicines used in such treatments. Also, the Foundation seeks to provide assistance to relieve and eliminate child abuse and provide assistance to infants and children who are without proper homes. The Driskill Foundation Board of Directors consists of three members who all were closely connected in various capacities with the Driskill family. The Foundation is headquartered in Chicago. Visit the Foundation’s web site at www.driskillfoundation.org