Anonymous Donor Gives $20 Million for Cancer Research at Wake Forest Baptist

June 15, 2015

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has received $20 million to study the effects of muscadine grape extract (MGE) on prostate and breast cancers. The gift by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous is the largest ever received by the Medical Center.

The principal investigators of the multidisciplinary study are Patricia Gallagher, Ph.D., and Ann Tallant, Ph.D., professors in the Hypertension and Vascular Research Center and the Department of Cancer Biology at Wake Forest Baptist. The research will involve 26 faculty members from multiple disciplines, including hypertension and vascular research, hematology and oncology, cancer biology, urology, radiology, public health sciences, radiation biology and pathology.

John D. McConnell, M.D., chief executive officer of Wake Forest Baptist, said the gift is an example of how philanthropy makes a difference for an academic medical center, and not necessarily because of the amount involved.

“We are extremely grateful for this generous philanthropic support of our researchers, our Medical Center and our mission, to improve health,” McConnell said. “This demonstrates the role that philanthropy plays for us. This gift was made by an individual who believes in our institution and has a passion for making a profound difference in the lives and health of others.

“While the amount of this gift is historic for us and provides a remarkable opportunity, the work we do as a leading academic medical center would not be possible without support of all kinds from our community and those who believe in what we do.”

The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia Michx.), which is native to the southeastern United States and was the first native grape species to be cultivated in North America, is a rich source of polyphenols, a type of potent antioxidant. The specific type of MGE being studied by Wake Forest Baptist scientists is a new formulation not commercially available that was developed by Nature’s Pearl Corp. of  Advance, North Carolina.

This five-year gift will fund three clinical trials: a Phase I trial to determine toxicity of the extract in patients with solid tumors, and two Phase II trials, one in men with prostate cancer and one in women with triple negative breast cancer, to determine the effect of the extract on reducing metastatic growth and on quality of life issues.

In addition, the gift will support a preclinical study (animal model) on the treatment of breast cancer with MGE; preclinical studies to determine the molecular mechanisms for the reductions in tumor growth; the effect of co-administration of the extract with radiation and chemotherapeutics commonly used to treat breast and prostate cancer; and the effect of the extract on co-morbidities, which are often present in patients with prostate and breast cancer.

“This generous gift is transformative in that it allows us to develop an all-inclusive study to determine the potential benefits of this kind of muscadine grape extract for the treatment of these two cancers,” Gallagher said.

In previous studies, Gallagher and Tallant investigated the effect of muscadine grape extract on the growth of human cancer cells in the laboratory, including lung, breast, glioblastoma, melanoma, prostate, leukemia and colon. The scientists found that the extract inhibited the growth of the cancer cells tested by 40 to 50 percent.

More importantly, in a prevention study, female mice engineered to develop breast cancer had reduced tumor formation after drinking the extract (a dose equivalent to about 10 tablespoons for an average-sized man) for seven months. In a lung cancer model of fetal exposure, the tumor burden also was decreased by 50 percent in the female offspring but not in the males after drinking the extract for a year. In both mouse models, the muscadine grape extract reduced the number of blood vessels feeding the tumor.

“A gift of this magnitude can dramatically accelerate the pace of this promising research,” said Edward Abraham, M.D., dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. “We are more likely to see clinical trials in place much sooner because of this investment, and any potential benefits that may be identified would be passed along to patients sooner than would otherwise be possible.”

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Marguerite Beck:, 336-716-2415