Focus on a cure

Dr. Sunil Patel looks over a head MRI scan in his office at MUSC. The family of late philanthropist Jerry Zucker donated $2 million to fund brain tumor research.

Finding brain tumor cures is a new focus of the Medical University of South Carolina because of a $2 million donation by the family of the late local philanthropist Jerry Zucker.

About $1 million of the gift will support the Jerry Zucker Endowed Chair in Brain Tumor Research. The endowed chair will support the work of a researcher/professor specializing in the investigation of brain tumors, said John Nash, director of communications for the Alumni Affairs and Development Office.

"Once you have an endowed chair in something, that really institutionalizes the pursuit," Nash said.

The gift also will support spinal cord research and allow

MUSC surgeons to bring neurosurgical care and training to the people of Tanzania, Africa, where there are only three neurosurgeons in the country, a ratio of one to every 12.9 million people.

Zucker was a scientist, inventor and businessman who founded The InterTech Group, a Charleston-based polymers conglomerate that grew into one of the nation's largest privately held businesses. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007 and died on April 12, 2008.

Shortly afterward, his wife Anita Zucker met with Sunil Patel, clinical chairman of MUSC's Department of Neurosciences, to talk about ways they might work together to end the type of neurological ailments that claimed her husband's life. The discussion led to the Zucker family's decision to fund neurological research and care, MUSC said Wednesday.

"I always look at treating patients as a God-given privilege. But caring for Jerry was an extraordinary experience that changed my life in many ways," Patel said. "In my mind, it confirmed what I needed to do in neurosciences."

Zucker called Patel in 2006 to learn more about what might be done to help a family member who had suffered a serious spinal cord injury. A year later, Zucker was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Patel became his doctor. They met frequently and spoke on the phone about his disease, often late into the night. The two talked at length about the need for a stronger link between research and patient care.

"Jerry was very frustrated with health care. He saw a lot of dollars going into research but very little coming out, at least at a pace that satisfied him," Patel said.

Shortly after Zucker died, Anita Zucker began meeting with Patel to talk about a way they might bring Zucker's vision of "transformational research" to life at MUSC's Department of Neurosciences. She is chairwoman of the MUSC Foundation's Board of Directors.

After several months of planning, Zucker and her family made a gift of $2 million for aggressive research into new treatments for brain tumors, spinal cord injuries and other neurological ailments. She declined to be interviewed Wednesday.

In November 2008, Anita Zucker donated $500,000 to the food bank's Growing Forward capital campaign. In April 2008, the Jerry Zucker Middle School of Science in North Charleston was named in his honor.

The Jerry Zucker Ride for Hope is a fundraising bicycling event for the Livestrong foundation and Charleston-area charities involved in the fight against cancer. The first Ride for Hope was held in October. Zucker was one of the members of the South Carolina Stingrays' ownership group. He brought underprivileged children to Stingrays games, paid for players to return home for family funerals and helped former players establish businesses.

Zucker, a son of Rabbi Leon Zucker, a Holocaust survivor, was devoted to his father's teachings such as, "Speech is silver, but silence is golden. ... No one should be judged by their years, only by their deeds."