April 17, 2023

Large donation brings cutting-edge cancer research to Ascension Providence Hospital through collaboration with Wayne State University

A transformational gift from generous donors will make it possible for Ascension Providence Hospital to partner with Wayne State University to share clinical and outcome data to support advanced cancer research.

Lakshmi Gavini, M.D., and her husband Vinaya Gavini, M.D., made the multi-million-dollar gift to enhance the course of cancer care, research and medical training in southeast Michigan, where they each practiced medicine for more than 40 years before retiring to Orlando, Fla. Lakshmi, an obstetrician/gynecologist, was on the medical staff at Ascension Providence Hospital, Southfield, and served as chief of Gynecology and Minimally Invasive Surgery. Vinaya, a pediatrician who specialized in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was also on the Ascension Providence Hospital medical staff.

Their passion to help cancer patients led the Gavinis to make their gift. While they already made a major gift to establish the SM Gavini Center for Cancer Prevention at Ascension Providence Hospital, Novi, which opened in 2020, they wanted to make a bigger difference.

Dr. Laksmi Gavini had seen the devastating effects of a cancer diagnosis on her patients and their families. This left an indelible impression on her both professionally and personally. She also observed how the evolution of genetic testing made a difference in cancer prevention and management.

In the past three decades, significant progress has been made in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Still, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, cancer continues to be the leading cause of death in 45- to 64-year-olds, and the second leading cause of death in the overall population, claiming about 600,000 lives every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

In recognition of the Gavinis’ cumulative level of giving to the hospital, the Ascension Providence Cancer Center in Southfield will be named the Ascension Providence Hospital CK Potluri Cancer Center, for Lakshmi’s parents, Chalapathi and Krupa Potluri, who were civic-minded community leaders. In spite of having only basic formal education, her parents inspired their daughters to be anything they wanted, with education as the key to success. Lakshmi Gavini was the first student from the high school in her village in India to go to medical school.

Doctors Lakshmi and Vinaya Gavini said, “Metro Detroit and Ascension Providence became our home for over 40 years, making us who we are as physicians and helping us create a family of friends. We want to give back to the institution, and the community it serves, that opened their hearts and doors for us all these years. We are very excited to support this endeavor in advanced cancer research and treatment at Ascension Providence Hospital.”

“Everyone hopes to be significant in their lives – be it by the patients they've impacted, their commitment to their community, or their shared vision of the future,” said Gary Druskovich, M.D., M.B.A., regional president and chief executive officer, Metro Detroit - West Region, Ascension Michigan. “The Gavinis – through their work and now this gift – have secured a place of significance in the past, present and future of Ascension Providence. We are forever grateful.”

While Ascension Providence Hospital has an established research program with highly-qualified physicians, it doesn’t have the resources for large collaborative studies. The Gavinis’ support will allow the Ascension Providence Hospital CK Potluri Cancer Center to partner with WSU to conduct cutting-edge translational oncology research, which takes scientific discoveries from the laboratory and transforms them into new treatments and approaches to medical care to improve the health of the population.

The Ascension Providence Hospital CK Potluri Cancer Center plans to focus on advanced cancer research in non-invasive new generation genomic testing to enhance precision diagnosis and treatment. In addition to the current therapeutic research projects conducted at the center, the Gavinis believe this endeavor will further enhance research opportunities for oncology fellows. They hope to see the day when a patient hears the word “cancer” as a diagnosis, that it means “cure,” not a life of uncertainty.

Pursuing a partnership with WSU was a natural fit as the institutions have previously published together.

Howard Terebelo, D.O., director of the Ascension Providence Cancer Center, said the hospital has a relationship with many of the center’s physicians who are faculty at the WSU School of Medicine.

After learning about the Gavinis’ interest in supporting innovative cancer research, Abdulghani Sankari, M.D., Ph.D., director of Medical Education, Ascension Providence Hospital, and Wael Sakr, M.D., dean of the WSU School of Medicine, quickly identified a team from both institutions to launch a strategic initiative that meets Dr. Lakshmi Gavini’s vision.

The first research project will be a collaboration with Asfar Azmi, Ph.D., WSU associate professor of Oncology and leader of the Molecular Therapeutics Program and director of pancreas cancer research at the Karmanos Cancer Institute, and the Ascension Providence Hospital Hematology/Oncology team of Susan Lyons, M.D., Ph.D., and Shoshana Rothstein, M.D., first-year fellow. Dr. Sankari will assist with providing oversight of the Ascension Providence Oncology collaboration and research endeavors.

The focus of the first collaborative project is pancreatic cancer, a disease with high morbidity and mortality. The project utilizes genomic sequencing, focusing on the development of blood-based biomarkers that are predictive of therapy response and resistance for advanced pancreatic cancer.

In addition to building capacity in cutting-edge research, the gift will support training programs in translational cancer research to develop future clinical investigators and clinical research fellows. Each year, Ascension Providence Hospital residents, fellows and faculty attending physicians will have access to Dr. Azmi’s laboratory for specialized training in translational cancer research.

“The Gavini gift to the Ascension Providence Cancer Center continues their rich legacy of compassionate care, intellectual curiosity and research in cancer prevention and detection,” Dr. Terebelo said. “The lauded Gavini tradition will live on through their generous research and supportive care gifts. We are indebted and humbled by their generosity on behalf of our patients.”

In Michigan, Ascension operates 16 hospitals and hundreds of related health care facilities that together employ more than 21,000 associates. Across the state, Ascension provided more than $311 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2022. Serving Michigan for more than 140 years, Ascension is a faith-based health care organization dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care.

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