January 10, 2014

$90 mil given for cancer research

The University of Chicago’s Ludwig Center for Cancer Research will receive $90 million to further fund studies in the spread of cancer, recruit expert scientists, and fill other holes left by a lack of federal funding for research initiatives.

The money is part of a $540 million gift from Ludwig Cancer Research, a nonprofit international community of researchers, to six academic centers funded by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), based in New York.

The LICR was founded in 1971 by Michigan native Daniel Ludwig, a shipping magnate and one of the world’s richest men in the 1960s. After Ludwig’s death in 1994, the LICR gave money to six academic institutions to establish cancer research centers. UChicago’s Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research opened in 2006.

“This funding is really transformative in the sense that it goes beyond our labs,” said Professor Geoffrey Greene, co-director of UChicago’s Ludwig Center and Chair of the Ben May Department for Cancer Research. “One of the major uses we really want to apply this money to would be recruitment of senior investigators…[people] who are complementary to what we have here.”

Greene said the work of the center is focused on metastasis, or the spread of cancerous cells around the body. “That’s really what kills people,” he said. “In the shorter term, our goal is to better understand what’s going on in the genesis and progression of cancer, including metastasis and how to effectively inhibit it in a way that prolongs life and increases quality of life.”

Ludwig researchers at UChicago are trying to understand metastasis from its origin to its prevention, including how the cells escape the tumors and why they establish themselves in particular places elsewhere in the body. Greene’s work is geared toward comprehending metastasis in the breast. His co-director of the center, Ralph Weichselbaum, studies the phenomenon of oligometastasis, which results when a cancer metastasizes in one or a few particular organs.

Although researchers knew that this gift would be coming once the Ludwig estate’s assets were sold off, a process that concluded last month, they were not certain how it would be appropriated, according to Greene.

“There was some potential competition [among the centers] to try to gain some favor, but it turns out they were very equitable [in distributing the Ludwig funds],” he said.

Ultimately, each center received the same amount of money.

Greene hopes the gift will be used to strengthen ties and collaborations between the various branches of Ludwig Cancer Research, which includes various international branches of the LICR and the six academic centers.

“The whole idea is to have that occur more frequently now with this new funding, to have us all interact,” he said. “[The Ludwig Cancer Research organization] is set up now to show us all as part of a large entity with a common overall goal.”