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NeuroNow - Giving brain cancer research a lasting boost

NeuroNow Spring 2012

Giving brain cancer research a lasting boost

Date: May 3, 2012

Irving and Florence Sherman
Irving and Florence Sherman have made many donations over the past several years to benefit Hopkins’ brain cancer efforts.

Irving Sherman completed his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins in 1936, then stayed on for medical school and residency here. When he left to serve as a neurosurgeon in World War II in 1943, his long relationship with Hopkins’ university, medical school and hospital was well established.

“I love Hopkins,” says Sherman, who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla. “I spent 10 years completely at Hopkins before I joined the army. It was like home.”

Even during his long career practicing in Staten Island, N.Y., and Bridgeport, Conn., among other places, Sherman kept tabs on his alma mater. While the institution excelled in neurosurgery, recognized as one of the best academic medical centers for the neurosciences in the nation, Sherman thought that Hopkins might be even better—especially with his help.

That’s why Sherman and his wife, Florence, established the Irving J. Sherman, M.D. Research Professorship with a generous, multimillion dollar gift. In 2003, Gregory Riggins became the inaugural recipient of this endowed professorship, leaving a tenured position at Duke University to join the Hopkins neurosurgery faculty.

The new professorship allowed Riggins, who had previously trained here for his postdoctoral fellowship, to establish a new laboratory with the sole goal of studying brain cancer biology and new therapies for this condition—something that had never previously existed at Hopkins. The funding covers part of Riggins’ salary each year, allowing more money from his successful grants to go directly into research. Having more funds available also allows Riggins to take greater chances with his research, providing more opportunities for discoveries that proceed in leaps and bounds from bench to bedside, rather than in the smaller increments more easily funded by more conservative granting agencies. 

“The Shermans’ gift allowed me to come here and do exactly the kind of risky translational research I’d dreamed of doing,” Riggins says.

For example, Riggins plans to soon start a clinical trial to test an old drug, currently used to treat parasitic infections such as pinworms and roundworms, to treat glioblastoma. While treating mouse models of another brain cancer called medulloblastoma for these parasites, he and his colleagues discovered accidently that this drug appeared to stop tumors from growing.

Subsequent research in animal models for the more common glioblastoma also show promising results—however, running a clinical trial to test the drug in human subjects will be costly, Riggins says. Clinical trials in general, he explains, require an abundance of funding to pay for study drugs and tests beyond the standard of treatment, among other expenses. An additional gift from the Shermans to supplement a grant from the Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure Foundation, Riggins adds, is supporting clinical trials such as this one.

Sherman, who has been a longtime, influential member of the Neurosurgery Advisory Board, which advises the director of neurosurgery and the director of development, and his wife have also provided additional gifts over the years, including funds to purchase a specialized microscope that several neuroscience researchers use to view and photograph cancer cells. Their gifts have also provided support and matching funds to help endow the Walter E. Dandy, M.D. Professorship, which supports the work of Rafael Tamargo, professor of neurosurgery and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. Other funds pay for a traveling professorship that allows Hopkins physicians to learn techniques at other institutions and bring that knowledge home to share with researchers here. To amplify these gifts, Irving and Florence Sherman also host events in Palm Beach to encourage others to donate generously as well.

Because Sherman was a practicing neurosurgeon himself, Riggins says, he has a unique insight on how these gifts can change the future for brain cancer researchers and patients.

“Dr. Sherman has seen firsthand the implications of brain cancers in patients. He can see the progress that we’re making, and he has the foresight to know that further progress can be made,” Riggins says. “Using his gifts in key areas is an important catalyst for our research and the entire field of brain cancer.” 

To make a gift to the Department of Neurology, please call 410-516-6250.

To make a gift to the Department of Neurosurgery, please call 410-516-6234.

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