Greenberg donation spurs bladder cancer institute

A gift from the Glyndon-based Erwin and Stephanie Greenberg Foundation is sparking the formation of a bladder cancer institute at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

Husband and wife Erwin L. Greenberg and Stephanie Cooper Greenberg have pledged $15 million to create the Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute. Johns Hopkins University is investing $30 million, for a total of $45 million, to fund what is considered the first bladder cancer institute in the world.

"Our foundation directs its funds to important research. By creating an institute, it brings a whole new emphasis on bladder cancer, with a director and a dedicated staff," Erwin Greenberg said of the largest designated bladder cancer research gift ever given to Hopkins.

The Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute is scheduled to formally begin operating this year, although the date has yet to be determined. Eventually it will be housed in the Albert P. "Skip" Viragh Jr. building, which is currently under construction and expected to open in 2016. Until then, it will be located in The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, on the east Baltimore campus.

From the start, however, the institute is a multidisciplinary effort, drawing from several Hopkins School of Medicine departments, including radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences, pathology, surgery and the Brady Urologic Institute. Erwin Greenberg expects 30 percent of the researchers at the institute to come from institutions other than Hopkins.

"Having an institute dedicated to bladder cancer will encourage collaboration among professions not only in the United States but in the world," he said.

According to Stephanie Greenberg, the couple knows people who have had bladder cancer. But the impetus for the gift came from her husband's service on the Kimmel Cancer Center's national advisory board.

"It came up in conversation that bladder cancer research is underfunded, and that there haven't been new treatments in 30 years," she said. "We felt that if we're going to make a dent, if we're going to improve the lives of people diagnosed with it, we have to go big."

Bladder cancer is called the "invisible cancer," meaning that the disease does not have the high visibility of, for example, breast, prostate and colon cancers. Nonetheless, it is one of the most common genitourinary cancers in adults worldwide.

In the U.S. alone, it is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer, with 72,000 to 75,000 new cases diagnosed annually at a rate of three-to-one men-to-women. Put another way, one in 42 people will be diagnosed with bladder cancer during their lifetimes. There are 15,000 deaths from bladder cancer every year.

About 70 percent of all newly diagnosed cases are noninvasive. After the tumor is removed surgically, the patient is treated with medication to prevent recurrence and progression.

Typically, patients are diagnosed with bladder cancer when they are older, in their 60s to 80s. Many are smokers.

"It's not a sexy disease. We don't get a lot of money from the government to diagnose and treat it," said Dr. Trinity Bivalacqua, associate professor of urology, surgery and oncology at Hopkins School of Medicine and co-director of the Bladder Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic at the Kimmel Cancer Center, among other titles.

Bivalacqua is on the planning team for the Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute, working on details such as staff size and annual budget. But he can say that the institute will have a clinic where patients will meet with a multidisciplinary team to streamline diagnosis and care. Research to identify and develop new drugs and treatments will be a major component of the institute, as will grants to Hopkins and outside scientists.

"It changes the scope of the disease when you have an institute that is 100 percent devoted to bladder cancer," said Bivalacqua.

The Erwin and Stephanie Greenberg Foundation focuses on health, education and poverty. "We do not do matching grants. We give directly for services, education, research," said Erwin Greenberg, who, with his wife, have been generous supporters of a number of causes.

These include Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine in many areas of medical research; Kennedy Krieger Institute; The Baltimore Station, a homeless shelter and rehabilitation facility for veterans; Baltimore Child Abuse Center; annual nursing and community college scholarships administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation; two public interest summer fellowships law students at the University of Maryland; The Sisters Academy in Baltimore, for female students grades five to eight; The Caroline Center, job skills for women; and a mentoring program for students at Dunbar High School.

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