The department of neurosurgery became the first named department in the UF College of Medicine’s 60-year history on Saturday, when it was officially named the Lillian S. Wells department of neurosurgery in honor of significant philanthropic support from the Lillian S. Wells Foundation Inc.
The Fort Lauderdale-based foundation’s most recent contribution was initiated in January 2011, establishing the Lillian S. Wells Fund for Brain Tumor Research to help medical scientists better understand the causes of brain tumors and lead to effective treatments and improved quality of life for patients.
“We are humbled and proud for the UF department of neurosurgery to become the first named department in our medical school, and for it to bear the name of such an influential organization and long-standing partner of the University of Florida,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine.
The relationship between UF’s neurosurgery department and the Wells Foundation dates back 30 years, beginning with funding for specialized surgical equipment and the Edward Shedd term professorship in stereotactic and functional neurosurgery. In 2006, an endowment from the foundation created the Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy, which has grown to be one of the nation’s leading comprehensive brain tumor programs.
The foundation’s most recent endowment was used to recruit a preeminent brain tumor science team to work across the full spectrum of basic, translational and clinical sciences, said William Friedman, M.D., chair of the department of neurosurgery, part of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute.
In 2013, Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., and his team of researchers joined the department and the Preston A. Wells Center for Brain Tumor Therapy, bringing world-class expertise in the use of immunotherapy to treat malignant brain tumors.
“Two-and-a-half years ago, Duane Mitchell and his incredible team joined us from Duke,” Friedman said during the naming ceremony. “Their accomplishments to date have been truly extraordinary. I think we have achieved criticality in the brain tumor field as each new science or clinical recruit leads us closer to major improvements in care and even a glimpse of potential cures.”
Mitchell, co-director of the Wells Center for Brain Tumor Therapy, said support from the Wells Foundation has been a stimulus for tremendous growth, and it has helped the department attract world-class scientists from around the country who are executing leading-edge brain tumor research.
“With private support from the Wells Foundation and with the facilities at UF, we have the ability to conduct the kind of innovative translational research that will result in more treatment options for patients with brain tumors,” said Mitchell. “I think the impact will manifest even greater over the next five years.”
Approximately 20,000 new primary brain tumors are diagnosed each year in the U.S. These are tumors that start within the cranium. More than 200,000 metastatic tumors are diagnosed, which are tumors that begin somewhere else in the body, such as the lungs. Brain tumors are the second-leading cause of cancer death in men ages 20 to 29 and the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women ages 20 to 39.