Once Upon a Time… spurs far-reaching, groundbreaking work

Demonstrating its commitment to UT Southwestern Medical Center and recognizing the institution’s mission to conduct impactful medical research and provide the most advanced clinical care, charitable foundation Once Upon a Time… has recently donated $10 million in support of research being led by several faculty members across campus.

This philanthropic support will accelerate efforts to determine genetic causes of disease, understand cell function in cancer, identify metabolic disturbances in cancer and other diseases, harness brain plasticity in treating multiple sclerosis, explain bacteria’s behavior, and develop more effective cancer treatments.

Fort-Worth based Once Upon a Time… has been a philanthropic partner to UT Southwestern for nearly 15 years, investing in some of the most important work underway, ranging from emergency medicine to neurology research to precision cancer treatments.

“We have enjoyed a strong partnership with UT Southwestern and are thrilled to substantially increase our giving now to support a number of exciting, and potentially transformative projects and initiatives,” said Geoffrey Raynor, the founder of Once Upon a Time...

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, said, “Ongoing support from Once Upon a Time… has enabled UT Southwestern to advance transformational research and clinical programs that have the potential to change the landscape of medicine. The Foundation’s latest investment in UT Southwestern is an impressive reflection of confidence in groundbreaking work taking place at this institution.”

Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis

Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis

As Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute’s Genetic Metabolic Disease Program and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism, Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis is working to identify metabolic disturbances in cancer and other diseases as a basis for designing new therapies that restore normal metabolism and improve patient health. Once Upon a Time… has provided $1 million toward these efforts.  

“I cannot overstate the importance of this generous gift,” said Dr. DeBerardinis, Associate Professor in Pediatrics. “The study of genetic conditions can be extremely difficult to secure funding for because individually the number of patients affected by any one of them may be small. But there are hundreds of these diseases, and collectively they account for a disproportionate amount of illness and death in children. Identifying the genetic basis of rare conditions is like looking for the needle in the haystack, but uncovering them can lead to specific treatments that can dramatically improve the health of patients.”

Dr. DeBerardinis and his colleagues recently identified a novel metabolic pathway that helps cancer cells thrive in conditions that are lethal to normal cells. His team believes this is a crucial first step in developing therapeutic strategies that can put a cancer’s own metabolism to work against itself.

Dr. Elliot Frohman

Dr. Elliot Frohman

Dr. Elliot Frohman, Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, and Ophthalmology, understands what can be achieved through powerful partnerships. Since 1995 he and his wife, Teresa Frohman, a Physician Assistant in Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, have worked to understand, manage, and uncover the mysteries involved in multiple sclerosis (MS).

Once Upon a Time… provided $1 million to support Dr. Frohman’s collaboration with Dr. Robert Rennaker, Chief of Neuroengineering at UT Dallas. Their work explores how the brain’s ability to learn and recover, known as brain plasticity, can be harnessed to treat MS patients.  

“For more than 30 years the focus has been on making a difference for those who suffer from multiple sclerosis,” said Dr. Frohman. “Dr. Rennaker and I both believe it’s imperative to develop better therapeutic care. I am grateful for this gift and what it could mean for MS patients.”

Dr. Sean Morrison

Dr. Sean Morrison

An internationally recognized leader in stem cell research, Dr. Sean Morrison is Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute (CRI) at UT Southwestern. He and his team focus on the intersection of stem cell biology with regenerative medicine and cancer biology.

To support Dr. Morrison, the Foundation has gifted $1 million for research. He is the principal investigator for the Hamon Laboratory for Stem Cell and Cancer Biology at CRI, which studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate the function of stem cells and cancer cells in the nervous and hematopoietic systems.

“Once Upon a Time… takes a very creative and deep thinking approach in selecting projects that potentially could have an immense impact, “said Dr. Morrison, Professor of Pediatrics. “We know cancer cells can hijack a stem cell’s self-renewal mechanisms, and our studies have revealed new vulnerabilities in cancer cells could be exploited by anticancer therapies.”

Dr. Kim Orth

Dr. Kim Orth

To further her research of how bacteria take over cells, Dr. Kim Orth’s laboratory needed a confocal microscope. Funding in the amount of $1 million from Once Upon a Time… will enable her lab staff to continue their work of studying how disease-causing bacteria manipulate host cells for their own benefit and survival.

“Getting this type of tool has been a game changer,” Dr. Orth said. “Now we’re furthering our understanding of how important cell functions are exploited. I am so appreciative of the Foundation’s gift and its foresight to invest in basic science research.”
Dr. Orth, Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and her team previously identified unknown mechanisms by which invading bacteria commandeer and deregulate a cell’s signaling systems, cutting off its ability to communicate with immune-system cells.

“Our cells use chemicals, specifically proteins, to communicate and send instructions,” said Dr. Orth. “Bacteria manufacture proteins that mimic our own proteins, thus tricking our cells into following the bacteria’s orders. If we can learn to turn the tables, to manipulate cells the way bacteria do, the possibilities would be enormous.”

Next Generation Sequencing

The ability to sequence the DNA of an organism’s genome is one of the most important scientific advances of the last two decades. Utilizing a $5 million gift from the Foundation, UT Southwestern currently is developing a robust Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) enterprise to advance the power of genomics and deliver personalized therapies for cancer patients. Those therapies will target the unique genetic signature of patients’ specific cancers.

In addition to cancer, NGS could also have an impact on other fields as they enter the genomics era, including autoimmune diseases and metabolic disorders. UT Southwestern faculty members care for many children with developmental disorders likely to have a genetic origin. Understanding the causes of these disorders could have broad impact on both clinical care and on understanding the mechanisms involved in memory, emotion, and recovery in adults.

“The establishment of the Once Upon a Time Foundation Human Genomics Center at UT Southwestern will not only be a boon for North Texas patients, but also position the Medical Center as a leading referral lab for genomic testing,” said Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost and Dean of the UT Southwestern Medical School. “I am grateful to Once Upon a Time… for this generous support of the Medical Center’s far-reaching efforts.”

Additional Areas of Support

The Foundation also recognized three physicians for the exceptional care they provide to patients through additional philanthropic gifts totaling $1 million. Dr. Arthur Sagalowsky, Professor of Urology, was honored through the establishment of the Arthur Sagalowsky, M.D. Distinguished Professorship in Urology. Dr. Robert Timmerman, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Neurological Surgery, and Dr. Yull Arriaga, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, were recognized and received support for their collaborative i-SAbR (Immunotherapy + Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy) research projects. Aimed at exploiting the synergistic effect of combining immunotherapy and radiotherapy that in early studies has been shown to improve treatment efficacy and outcomes for several types of cancers, these projects also exemplify the Medical Center’s emphasis on interaction among its clinicians, translational researchers, and basic scientists.

This latest provision of funds by Once Upon a Time… represents unprecedented support. Previously the Foundation made gifts and pledges of more than $4.1 million to UT Southwestern. The Medical Center’s neurology programs also received a gift of $1 million in 2006 to accelerate efforts to study epileptic seizures and the nerve cell loss caused by MS. In 2013, funds established the Once Upon a Time Foundation Professorship in Pediatric Neurologic Diseases, currently held by Dr. Juan Pascual, Associate Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, Physiology, and Pediatrics.

“UT Southwestern would not be where it is today without the vision of philanthropists like Geoffrey Raynor,” said Dr. Podolsky. “When I look around our campus, I am reminded of the tremendous investment our community has made in building a hub for medical innovation in North Texas.”

Dr. DeBerardinis holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics.

Dr. Fitz holds the Nadine and Tom Craddick Distinguished Chair in Medical Science and Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Frohman holds the Irene Wadel and Robert I. Atha, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Neurology and the Kenney Marie Dixon-Pickens Distinguished Professorship in Multiple Sclerosis Research.

Dr. Morrison holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics and Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Children's Research Institute at UT Southwestern.

Dr. Orth holds the Earl A. Forsythe Chair in Biomedical Science.

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.

Dr. Sagalowsky holds the Cissy and Plack Carr, Jr. Professorship in Medical Education.

Dr. Timmerman holds the Effie Marie Cain Distinguished Chair in Cancer Therapy Research.