By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Several years ago, at a restaurant in uptown Charlotte, a banker and a physician talked about the collaboration that would be needed for the local development of experimental therapies to treat brain tumors.
That conversation led to efforts to found Neuro-Life, a nonprofit that aims to raise public awareness about brain cancer, and to support innovative treatments and biomedical research.
Through a dinner and two cycling events, Neuro-Life last year raised $250,000 for the Brain Tumor Fund of the Carolinas it has created at the Foundation for the Carolinas.
And the group expects to raise another $250,000 this summer through the two cycling events.
The nonprofit also has signed an agreement with UNC-Charlotte that will result in a new nonprofit biomedical institute to advance cancer-research programs at the school.
“We have the potential to leverage considerable assets to do some extraordinary things,” says Dr. Tony Asher, director of the brain-tumor programs at Carolinas Medical Center and Presbyterian Hospital, and one of the nonprofit’s co-founders.
“We can only achieve our full potential with a collaborative approach that involves people from the business, medical and academic communities,” he says.
In addition to spurring research that will benefit patients, he says, the development effort can stimulate the local economy, attracting bio-industry, generating academic research and boosting giving and grants from individuals, corporations, foundations and government.
More than 1.2 million new cancer cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, with brain tumors developing in up to one in four cancer patients, according to Neuro-Life.
Brain cancer is the leading cause of death in children and young adults up to age 34, it says, and the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among people over than age 65.
In the Charlotte area alone, roughly 1,200 people will develop some form of brain tumors each year, the group says.
Yet standard therapies for malignant primary or metastatic brain tumors are rarely curative, Asher says.
“If you’re going to offer the patient any hope after they’ve received standard treatment, you need to be able to offer them inclusion in some type of clinical protocol,” he says.
The two cycling events aim to raise money for Neuro-Life and to brand it in the community, says Jim Palermo, the group’s other co-founder, a retired executive vice president at Bank of America who now is executive in residence at Johnson & Wales University.
Neuro-Life is benefiting from 24 Hours of Booty, a 24-hour cycling event July 29-30, and from the Bank of America Invitational Criterium on Aug. 6 featuring the world’s largest purses for professional criterium events for men and women, says Palermo, whose son was diagnosed with brain cancer 15 years ago while a college freshman, underwent successful radiation treatment, and now is a radiation oncologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
Asher says Neuro-Life is all about potential.
“Our whole effort is not to focus on what we are, which is very, very good,” he says, “but on what we can be, which is world-class.”