On Monday, Stanford University announced that it received a $90 million donation to support cancer stem cell research within their School of Medicine.
The donation to Stanford is a portion of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research’s $540 million distribution to six elite cancer research institutions, making it one of the largest one-time gifts dedicated to fighting the disease. The Ludwig Institute is a non-profit foundation founded by Daniel Ludwig, the late American shipping magnate and billionaire.
Ed McDermott, CEO of the institute, said the contribution will help researchers build upon recent research advances at a time when funds have been dwindling.
“Never before has the cancer community had the knowledge and tools to probe so deeply into understanding cancer and discovering new ways to defeat it,” McDermott said, according to Fox News. “More must be done in terms of funding to ensure continued progress in an era of shrinking global resources for research.”
The money will be distributed equally among six institutions, formerly known as “Ludwig Centers”, across the nation, including Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the University of Chicago.
The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research first established its Ludwig Centers in 2006, and has since helped pave the way for immunotherapy treatments, the development of “smart drugs” and research advances for certain rapidly spreading cancers.
“The gift from Ludwig Cancer Research is truly historic,” Stanford University President John Hennessy said. “Ludwig has been a generous supporter of cancer research, and through its support changed the course of cancer treatment. But this extraordinary gift will spur innovation well into the future… This gift is a tremendous vote of confidence in the work they and their colleagues at other Ludwig Centers are doing and will provide essential support as they pioneer new treatments and therapies.”
Certain cancers are driven by hidden cancer stem cells, which remain tenacious even after treatment, maintaining themselves and continuing to spread. Because of these stem cells, the fight against cancer is proceeding more slowly than hoped.
“These are the subset of cells that self-renew — they’re the dangerous one,” said Dr. Irving Weissman, the director of Stanford’s Ludwig Center.
Fortunately, Ludwig Institute’s new donation will help move some promising therapies into clinical trials for testing. Stanford’s Ludwig Center, the only cancer stem cell center of its kind, is hoping to learn more about these stem cells through immunotherapy, a treatment that uses substances to stimulate the immune system.
According to Stanford’s newspaper, Weissman is also hoping to use the funds to pursue clinical trials for a therapy that have the potential to dramatically improve survival rates for women with metastatic breast cancer.
In one trial, 33 percent of the women were still alive and well, compared to 7 percent of women under the common treatment.
The trial was terminated by the funding company, but with Ludwig’s support, Weissman and his colleagues have obtained the rights to plan a bigger clinical experiment later this year.
“If this works as it did before, one third of women will be alive and will never see doctors again for breast cancer,” Weissman said.
To date, Ludwig’s research institution has donated approximately $2.5 billion globally towards cancer research. Despite his death more than a decade ago, Ludwig’s support for and generosity towards cancer research continues to promote experimentation and change lives for many years to come.