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Foundation’s generosity bolsters two areas of research

Research into cancer as well as epilepsy is boosted by gifts from the Swebilius Trust

(l-r): Stephen Hotchkiss, co-trustee; Charles Fuchs, Yale Cancer Center director; co-trustees Amy Lynch (for Bank of America, N.A.) and John Brennan; Dennis Spencer, chief of epilepsy surgery.
Photo by Carl Kaufman
(l-r): Stephen Hotchkiss, Charles Fuchs, Amy Lynch, John Brennan, and Dennis Spencer
(l-r): Stephen Hotchkiss, co-trustee; Charles Fuchs, Yale Cancer Center director; co-trustees Amy Lynch (for Bank of America, N.A.) and John Brennan; Dennis Spencer, chief of epilepsy surgery.

In fostering biomedical research at Yale, the C.G. Swebilius Trust has a particular focus: to inspire research or study of the causes, prevention, treatment or cure of cancer and epilepsy. For more than 44 years, Yale has been the most frequent recipient of funds from the trust, at the discretion of the trustees. The trust’s contributions to Yale School of Medicine have recently passed the $18 million mark. This enduring relationship has given rise to notable discoveries through advanced research in the areas of cancer and epilepsy at Yale.

“The Swebilius Trust plays a critical role in stimulating novel and impactful cancer research during its early stages,” says Charles S. Fuchs, MD, MPH, Richard Sackler and Jonathan Sackler Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology), and director of Yale Cancer Center. Grants from the trust help researchers develop pilot data derived from small-scale studies aimed at determining the feasibility of more extensive investigation, he notes. Many researchers who begin with funding from the Swebilius Trust move on to larger awards from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ranjit Bindra, MD, PhD, associate professor of therapeutic radiology, benefited from early funding from the trust. His lab focuses on novel therapies for glioblastoma. “The Swebilius Trust provided essential pilot funding for my laboratory when we were just getting started,” Bindra says. “It allowed us to develop a core set of drug screening reagents that we use in our lab even today. We are very grateful for their commitment to cancer research.”

The trust also promotes the importance of multidisciplinary approaches to biomedical research. “A field can be much more productive where there is work across departments and across institutions on a single concept,” says Dennis Spencer, MD, Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neurosurgery and chief of epilepsy surgery. “For example, if you take scientists engaged in basic research who are interested in cellular-related activity in the brain, and you provide them with the resources to translate that work as it pertains to epilepsy, the field can go in a direction in which it was not headed before.”

Christopher Benjamin, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, recently completed a year of Swebilius Trust research support. He aims to understand language function in epilepsy patients, and predict how language and memory may respond to surgery. “Epilepsy is a neurological condition that we can potentially cure with surgery, but surgery may not be an option if there are potential risks to language or memory,” says Benjamin.

With his award, Benjamin was able to show that there is a tremendous opportunity to improve our ability to map language in patients and ensure better outcomes. This initial research enabled Benjamin to secure additional funding after his Swebilius award concluded.

“Department chairs, faculty, and researchers have met with the trustees annually and consistently impressed us with their knowledge, dedication, and progress in scientific advancement toward the objectives established by the Swebilius estate,” says Stephen Hotchkiss, co-trustee. “We continue to be impressed by the responsible manner in which the funds are applied.”