Introducing the Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers

February 15, 2010

Georgetown University Medical Center announced in September the creation of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancers. The Center will fund gastrointestinal cancer research focusing on a cure, multidisciplinary patient care and advocacy efforts at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Jeanette W. Ruesch generously made the $6.75 million gift in memory of her husband, Otto, a prominent Washington-area businessman and philanthropist who died of pancreatic cancer in October 2004 at the age of 64, after being treated at Lombardi.

Throughout Otto’s year-long battle with his disease, the Rueschs say they were struck by the lack of public understanding of gastrointestinal cancers, as well as the difficulty of accessing information and treatment. They saw a glaring need to shine a spotlight on the devastation caused by gastrointestinal disease through advocacy and increased research funding for more targeted drugs. The Center’s three part mission focuses on patient care, research, and advocacy.

“Our family was astounded that the prognosis for pancreatic cancer—one of the most devastating GI cancers—was so grim,” Jeanne Ruesch says. “There has been so little progress in identifying new treatment methodologies in recent years. Through the course of Otto’s illness, we saw so many families whose suffering touched our hearts and made us feel that we had to take some responsibility for trying to make a difference in treating this terrible disease.”

Gastrointestinal cancers remain among the most fatal cancers. Advances in treatment have lagged well behind other disease priorities because of a smaller pool of research funding and fewer survivors to carry the torch of advocacy, according to Ruesch Center Director John Marshall, MD, associate director for clinical research at Lombardi. In addition to being a global leader in the research and development of drugs to treat colon cancer, he treated Otto Ruesch for pancreatic cancer.

“We have lost our way in gastrointestinal cancer research in this country. We have accepted that merely adding time to one’s life is adequate as a treatment goal and have gotten away from the charge of curing these cancers,” says Marshall.

Author: Lauren Wolkoff