Virginia Commonwealth University will radically expand treatment options for liver and liver-related metabolic diseases thanks to a historic, transformational $104 million gift from R. Todd Stravitz, M.D., and his family’s Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation.
This gift is the largest in VCU’s history, the second-largest publicly shared gift to a university in Virginia and the largest publicly shared gift to support liver research in U.S. history — over four times more than the previous largest gift. It will position VCU as a global leader in liver disease and metabolic health research, teaching and patient care.
“Words cannot capture my feelings of gratitude for the transformative gift of Dr. Todd Stravitz and the Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “Todd has made history with his incredible leadership and generosity to VCU, supporting an institute that will forever change VCU and catalyze its commitment to our work with the human liver and metabolism. This gift firmly puts the needs of patients first.”
Rao continued: “The institute’s research will have an enormous impact on our lives, changing medicine and our understanding of the role the liver plays in human health. This gift is extraordinarily generous, and it is most certainly generative. It allows us to bring together top teams to deliver clinical care, to ask important questions, develop new tools to explore what causes liver disease and how we stop it, prevent it and even reverse it. Most importantly, it will immediately make a difference in the lives of thousands of people with liver disease. Ultimately, this will positively impact millions.”
Stravitz, a physician-philanthropist in the Department of Internal Medicine at VCU School of Medicine, dedicated his whole career as a liver clinician and researcher to VCU. Before retiring in 2020, he served as medical director of liver transplantation at VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center for a decade.
About 1 in 10 Americans have some type of liver disease, and it is one of the top 10 factors reducing life expectancy in the U.S. It is sometimes called a “silent killer” because it can go unnoticed until a liver transplant is the only treatment option. In 2021, about three people died on the liver transplant waiting list every day.
“The vision for this institute is to make liver transplant the last, but not the only, option for patients,” Stravitz said. “We will do this by investing in gene therapy and working hand in hand with biotech companies. In the process, VCU will train and educate the next generation of world-renowned liver experts.”The patient-centered institute will bring together and align the work of several entities already dealing with liver disease or its effects on other organs. These include the hepatology and research teams in VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center, VCU Massey Cancer Center and VCU Health’s Pauley Heart Center. Over time, VCU Health will be able to serve twice the patient volume for liver-related illnesses.
Focused on translational science, the institute will grow research and health care teams for liver-related clinical specialties, such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, end-stage liver disease, liver transplantation, liver cancer, women’s liver health issues and rare diseases in hepatology. Arun J. Sanyal, M.D., professor in VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine and a researcher and liver disease specialist at VCU Health, will serve as the institute’s director.
“The liver impacts the health of all other organs because of its central role in metabolism and how the body uses energy. When the liver shuts down, all organs suffer,” said Sanyal, interim chair of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at VCU School of Medicine. “Discoveries of the institute will develop new diagnostics and treatments and inform practice guidelines for liver-related diseases around the world, as well as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and kidney failure. The status quo of how we treat liver disease is no longer acceptable.”