Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:Alumnus gift supports medical research

Author: Kate Colwell
Date Published: November 8, 2021
Alumnus Baker hopes that the fund he and his wife established will act “as a catalyst for the university’s growing entrepreneurial culture.”
Alumnus Baker hopes that the fund he and his wife established will act “as a catalyst for the university’s growing entrepreneurial culture.” Photo: Courtesy Bill Baker

In an effort to support promising, early-stage biomedical research, for which there are limited federal dollars designated, the newly launched Georgetown University Medical Center Gap Fund will provide annual support to research that has demonstrated proof of concept and has potential to benefit society.

The inaugural cohort of Medical Center Gap Fund awardees includes scientists leading projects in cancer treatment. The fund—made possible by a $1M gift from Georgetown family Bill Baker (C’54, Parent’80, ’84, ’88) and Ruth Baker (Parent’80, ’84, ’88)—will invest $50,000 to $100,000 per project to advance technologies to their next critical development milestone.

Bill Baker, a longtime leader in the Georgetown community, is committed to strengthening Georgetown’s entrepreneurial ecosystem of advisors, collaborators, and funders for medical research. “It is my hope that this fund acts as a catalyst for the university’s growing entrepreneurial culture,” Baker says. “I believe it will increase investments and partnerships within the university community to create common good.”

The inaugural awardees are Jill P. Smith, MD, professor of medicine at Georgetown, and the team of Robert Glazer, PhD, professor of pharmacology and oncology at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Moshe Levi, MD, professor of biochemistry and molecular & cellular biology and interim dean for research at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Smith’s research is directed to biodegradable and non-toxic nanoparticles designed to detect and treat early stages of pancreatic cancer that have a specific cellular characteristic called the CCK-B receptor. The targeted nanoparticle can detect pre-cancerous lesions, penetrate dense tissue around cancer that chemotherapy cannot reach, and deliver a message to shut down cancer growth and metastasis. With CCK-B receptors being selectively overexpressed in colorectal and gastric cancer, the nanoparticles have potential to be studied for the treatment of these cancers as well.

Glazer and Levi’s research involves understanding a tumor’s microenvironment, specifically fibrosis—the development of excess extracellular matrix proteins that can contribute to a weakened immune tolerance and resistance to cancer therapy. They aim to repurpose DMHCA, a drug used to treat diabetic retinopathy and kidney disease, to reduce fibrosis with the goal of strengthening immune response and treatment effectiveness.

“Fostering novel ideas at their nascent stage is the lifeblood of biomedical research,” says Edward B. Healton, MD, MPH, executive vice president for health sciences at the Medical Center. “For most researchers, their lifelong goal is to contribute to the improvement of human health. It can be difficult to secure funds in support of fresh and promising ideas. For Gap Fund recipients, this could be a pivotal moment in very important research and we are very grateful for the Bakers’ impactful gift.”

Georgetown University has filed a patent application directed to technology reported here with Levi and Glazer named as co-inventors. In addition, Georgetown has a pending patent application in the U.S. and Europe with Smith as one of the co-inventors. The patent application is co-owned with NIH. For information about the technologies described, contact Ruchika Nijhara. To support the GUMC Gap Fund, contact Mark Antonucci.

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