Hearn Legacy Lives on at Brain Tumor Research Center

November 10, 2011

Center to Bear Name of Former Wake Forest President

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Nov. 10, 2011 – The Wake Forest School of Medicine’s research center that focuses on brain tumors will be named in honor of the former Wake Forest University president who helped direct funding to the cause both before and during his battle with the disease.

The center will be known as the Thomas K. Hearn Jr. Brain Tumor Research Center. It is part of the nationally recognized and the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“There was enthusiastic support for honoring Dr. Hearn, who was such an inspiration and so highly regarded by our medical center and our community,” said John D. McConnell, M.D., chief executive officer of Wake Forest Baptist. “We remain deeply grateful for Dr. Hearn’s leadership in overseeing the significant expansion of research awards on both the Reynolda and Bowman Gray campuses during his tenure.”

Hearn served as president of Wake Forest University from 1983-2005. In addition to helping expand research funding, he and his wife Laura were founding members of the National Cancer Advisory Board for the Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was treated for a brain tumor in late 2003 at Wake Forest Baptist. He died in August 2008 following a recurrence of the cancer.

“Tom had a powerful sense of vision and was always anticipating what could be accomplished in the future,” said Laura Hearn. “The Brain Tumor Research Center aligns strongly with his philosophies about medical research and care, and the role that medical science can play in improving people’s health and saving lives.”

The Hearn Brain Tumor Research Center, under the direction of Waldemar Debinski, M.D., Ph.D., was founded in 2003 to organize a more comprehensive academic effort to improve how treatment is managed. Its members focus on finding solutions that benefit patients with brain tumors.

The research faculty, whose motto is “steering toward the cure,” focus their work on:

  • Developing novel approaches to therapy
  • Protecting delicate healthy brain tissue against possible harmful effects of treatment
  • Obtaining images of the disease and the effects of treatment on the disease using safe and sensitive methods of detection
  • Using the best possible models for pre-clinical examination of therapies or preventive measures (in collaboration with the Virginia Tech School of Veterinary Medicine)
  • Enhancing the quality of life for patients and taking care of their emotional needs as well their family members’ needs

One of the group’s achievements was featured on the cover of the journal Genes and Cancer in late 2010. Debinski and his colleagues announced a major breakthrough in how to target and destroy Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) cells—the most malignant and aggressive brain cancer cells—without harming healthy cells. The finding allows for new possibilities in cancer research previously not known to be readily feasible.

“As a researcher, one can think and dream about many possible scenarios during the quest to find a way to treat cancer,” said Debinski, who is also professor of neurosurgery at Wake Forest Baptist. “This is one that we now know we can actually do. It’s feasible—and it's fantastic. That's the best way to describe it.”

Media Relations

Eric Whittington: ewhittin@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-5318

Main Number: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587