Generous gifts support CONQUER Project to advance transverse myelitis research


James and Karen LoBianco

By Erin Prather Stafford

Numbness, weakness, difficulty walking, pain, bladder dysfunction, and complete paralysis are among the symptoms suffered by people with transverse myelitis (TM), a disorder of the central nervous system.

Dr. Benjamin M. Greenberg, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics and of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, is familiar with all of these symptoms. An internationally recognized neurologist and expert in autoimmune disorders of the central nervous system, he leads UT Southwestern’s Transverse Myelitis and Neuromyelitis Optica Program as well as the Pediatric Demyelinating Disease Program at Children’s Medical Center Dallas – a joint program he established as one of only two of its kind in the country. Its mission is to provide exceptional care for patients, accelerate clinical and basic science research, and educate current and future health care practitioners.

Although rare, TM can strike anyone at any time and is caused by immune system cells and antibodies attacking and destroying myelin cells in the spinal cord and in optic nerves. Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) causes similar havoc to the body.

Dr. Greenberg’s expertise is what brought James and Karen LoBianco to Dallas. The couple, who live in Florida, had spent many frustrating hours with physicians until Mrs. LoBianco was finally diagnosed with TM. Even with the correct diagnosis, however, she had difficulty receiving beneficial treatments. Then Mr. LoBianco came across a Wall Street Journal article that led him to Dr. Greenberg, who quickly became Mrs. LoBianco’s main physician. The couple followed Dr. Greenberg when he left Johns Hopkins for UT Southwestern. 

“He truly makes you feel as if you’re his only patient,” said Mr. LoBianco. “Simply put, there are good doctors and there are great doctors, and Dr. Greenberg is a great one. We don’t make any medical decisions without his consultation. As we learned about his research, it became important to us to give him a leg up regarding the progress that could be made.”

In December 2016, Mr. and Mrs. LoBianco generously donated $500,000 to the CONQUER (Collaboration On Neuroimmunology: Question, Understand, Educate, Restore) Project to benefit TM research at UT Southwestern. Lyda Hill, President of Hill Development Co., also has generously supported the CONQUER Project with a gift of more than $1.5 million.

Miss Hill is a Dallas entrepreneur, philanthropist, and President of LH Holdings. She also established the Lyda Hill Foundation, which is dedicated to making transformational advances in nature and science research and improving local communities. 

Lyda Hill

“I have been delighted to support UT Southwestern in its mission to make a difference in the lives of patients with transverse myelitis and their families,” she said. “My hope is that when new treatments for the disease are proven effective and accessible by those who need them most, our Dallas community will be proud to know that local medical experts, community members, and patient advocates helped make it happen. Until that day, we all must support the patients, families, and survivors who courageously deal with transverse myelitis every day.”

The CONQUER Project also received support from The Meadows Foundation, which committed more than $200,000. Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Texans, the Dallas-based foundation was created in 1948 by Algur H. Meadows and his wife, Virginia.

“Curtis Meadows, the foundation’s longtime president, has transverse myelitis, and we have seen first hand the devastating effects it has on a person’s day-to-day quality of life,” said Linda Perryman Evans, President and CEO of The Meadows Foundation. “We are pleased to be able to support research in honor of Curtis in hopes of improving the care and well-being of those afflicted by this extremely rare disorder.”

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, said, “The CONQUER Project strengthens UT Southwestern’s efforts to quickly bring scientific advances to the bedside. We are grateful for these extraordinary gifts that support our efforts to become the premier international institution for transverse myelitis research and clinical care.”

In addition to TM and NMO, the Transverse Myelitis and Neuromyelitis Optica Program and Pediatric Demyelinating Disease Program treat other rare autoimmune disorders. A specialized, multidisciplinary team sees patients from around the world and conducts clinical and basic science research across multiple departments.

“These incredibly generous gifts have dramatically accelerated the pace of discovery for these rare conditions,” said Dr. Greenberg, who also directs UT Southwestern’s Neuroscience Translational Research Center. “This funding makes it possible for the CONQUER Project to pursue research endeavors that are accelerating discovery and creating new treatment options for patients. We are extremely grateful for the investments and partnerships that will change the outlook for people diagnosed with TM and NMO, and our findings will also have implications for many more patients with other diseases.”

Research laboratories at UT Southwestern have had several breakthroughs relating to the immune system’s ability to suppress autoimmunity and the effect of medications on patients’ immune systems. In 2012, the Medical Center launched its first comprehensive longitudinal study of transverse myelitis and neuromyelitis optica.

Dr. Greenberg is a Cain Denius Scholar in Mobility Disorders.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.