$10 million Wells Foundation gift will enable UF to speed brain tumor remedies

Pictured are (left to right): William Friedman, M.D., chair of the department of neurosurgery at the UF College of Medicine; UF President Bernie Machen; Barbara Wells from the Wells Foundation; Jim Ulmer, a director of the Wells Foundation; David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System; and Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. Photo by Maria Belen Farias

A $10 million gift from the Lillian S. Wells Foundation Inc. to the University of Florida department of neurosurgery will help medical scientists better understand the causes of brain tumors and lead to effective treatments and improved quality of life for patients, UF officials announced today.

The Fort Lauderdale-based foundation’s gift will establish the Lillian S. Wells Fund for Brain Tumor Research, allowing the university to round out its comprehensive brain tumor program by adding a proven basic science research team to work across the full spectrum of basic, translational and clinical sciences.

“Building on the excellence of the department’s clinical and educational programs, we are committed to strengthening its basic and translational research program,” said David S. Guzick, M.D.,Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs and president of the UF&Shands Health System. “Because of the extraordinary vision and compassion of the Wells Foundation, we will be in a position to utilize laboratory discoveries as a basis for new and better treatments for brain tumor patients.”

The relationship between UF’s neurosurgery department and the Wells Foundation dates back 30 years, with philanthropic support that includes a $5 million gift in 2006 to establish the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy. The center, one of the nation’s leading comprehensive brain tumor programs, improved UF’s research endeavors by creating opportunities for patients to participate in clinical trials.

The ideas for clinical trials often come from basic laboratory research, where scientists develop ideas about mechanisms of disease that lead to new therapies or procedures in patients. UF’s department of neurosurgery, part of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute, will recruit an internationally recognized brain tumor scientist to lead the research initiative, Guzick said.

“It is exciting to contemplate future achievements by dovetailing the clinical and research elements at the UF College of Medicine,” said Jim Ulmer, a director of the Wells Foundation. “The Lillian S. Wells Foundation is honored to continue its relationship with the College of Medicine.”

In recognition of the gift, the university will request that the UF Board of Trustees name the department the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery.

Approximately 20,000 new primary brain tumors are diagnosed each year in the U.S. These are tumors that start within the cranium. More than 200,000 metastatic tumors are diagnosed, which are tumors that begin somewhere else in the body such as lung cancer. Brain tumors are the second leading cause of cancer death in men ages 20 to 29 and the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women ages 20 to 39.

UF’s Wells Center uses a collaborative approach for treating and investigating brain disease, uniting key health care professionals and closely linking elements of patient care with research. The department performs more than 600 brain tumor procedures annually and cared for 4,500 patients last year, making it one of the 10 largest academic neurosurgical services in the country.

“Our department has been able to develop novel surgical approaches to the treatment of brain diseases,” said William Friedman, M.D., neurosurgery department chair. “These include the patented UF radiosurgery system, improved microsurgical anatomical approaches to the brain based on decades of research, and advanced computer-guided neurosurgical techniques.

“Due to the continued generosity of the Wells Foundation, we are now able to bring one of the world’s best brain tumor research groups to UF,” Friedman said. “Our goal, quite simply, is to create the team of scientists and clinicians who can find substantially better treatments for malignant brain tumors. 

The Wells Foundation gift, combined with matching funds from other university sources, launches a $20 million initiative that will have a significant impact on future brain tumor treatments and produce valuable results for the people of Florida and for people around the world, Friedman said.