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Wood Family Foundation establishes second endowed fund to support lung cancer research

IU School of Medicine • 7/31/18

The Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation has made its second major push to advance lung cancer research at Indiana University School of Medicine with a $2 million gift in memory of Indianapolis auto executive Tom Wood.

This gift will establish the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Chair in Lung Cancer Clinical Research and will fund the work of IU researchers as they develop new treatments and test them in clinical trials. It will also fund research that will serve as a catalyst for other grants and collaborative efforts.

Named to serve as the first holder of the chair is Nasser Hanna, MD, a professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine, a practicing oncologist and a member of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what a game changer this is,” Hanna said. “Money is critical to do research. No matter how great of an idea you have, if you don’t have the finances to run the experiment, it doesn’t matter.”

The Wood Family Foundation’s new gift follows its 2011 donation to establish an endowed chair in lung cancer research, which is currenty held by laboratory researcher John J. Turchi, PhD. Combined, the Wood family’s gifts to IU School of Medicine total $3.5 million and take aim at a key public health problem.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Indiana,” said Patrick J. Loehrer, MD, Director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. “The research we’re doing at the IU Simon Cancer Center, which focuses on saving lives and reducing the suffering from lung cancer, got a big boost from the deep generosity of the Wood Family Foundation. The foundation’s gift will serve as a legacy of determination and hope for patients in Indiana and beyond.”The family’s support follows their experiences during Tom Wood’s treatment for lung cancer at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Elsewhere, Wood had been given six months to live. But IU’s Larry Einhorn, MD, prescribed a series of treatments that extended Wood’s life for nearly four years.

“We believe strongly that IU is the finest place you can be treated for cancer,” said Julie Wood, Tom’s wife of 51 years. “And we hope through this research we will make it so other people won’t have to suffer the way Tom did.”

Lung cancer is a deadly form of cancer which is diagnosed less frequently than breast cancer but that kills more people annually, according to the American Cancer Society. As many as 150,000 Americans are projected to die from the disease in 2018.

As daunting as lung cancer remains, Hanna said there is new hope in therapies that spur the body’s own immune system to attack the disease. Patients with advanced stages of lung cancer who once might have lived only a few months are now surviving for years.

Hanna has been deeply involved in cancer research since joining the faculty at IU School of Medicine in 2001. He helped develop new drugs for advanced lung cancers and has challenged standards of care that were ineffective, costly and difficult for patients. And his work on the frontiers of immunotherapy’s use in lung cancer has shown promising results.

Now, with the support of the Wood Chair, Hanna said he will be able to expand the research into new combinations of immunotherapy drugs, as well as how they might work in tandem with chemotherapy.

“Where are we going with this?” Hanna said. “Well, we are already curing more people. And we’re going to fine tune this.”

Tom Wood, a Michigan native, graduate of Western Michigan University and a veteran of the United States Army, began his business career as a used car salesman in Michigan. Eventually, he moved to Indianapolis to enter the new car business, which expanded greatly over the years. He was recognized by TIME Magazine for his community and philanthropic work, including his support of the Indiana Children’s Wish Fund.

In 2006, Wood was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Initially, a doctor told him there was nothing more to be done but keep him comfortable. But at IU, Einhorn told the family he believed Wood was strong enough to fight the disease. Research provided options— and hope— for Wood and his family.

Einhorn saw Wood’s courage in fighting the disease and says the Wood Family Foundation’s support for cancer research will help continue that fight.

“A lot of the things we’ve been able to accomplish—  and will accomplish in the future—  would have been impossible without the generous support of this wonderful family.”

This gift from the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation counts toward For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign. The $3 billion campaign is taking place on all IU-administered campuses including IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU South Bend and IU Southeast. The campaign will conclude in June 2020 to coincide with IU’s bicentennial year celebration. To learn more about the campaign, its impact and how to participate, please visit forall.iu.edu.