Denzel And Pauletta Washington Lead Brain Crusade
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
Denzel and Pauletta
Washington support brain research at Cedars-Sinai.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Denzel Washington has earned fame and fortune, not to mention
two Oscars. But Washington and his wife Pauletta are more proud of helping people
make a difference.
To that end the Washingtons are long-time members of The Brain Trust which
supports the research of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute at Cedars-Sinai
Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"About three or four months after we became involved with the Brain Trust,
Pauletta's mother suffered a stroke and prior to that my father died of a stroke,"
says Washington, who serves on the Brain Trust's advisory board. "What Dr. Black
is researching encompasses all of the brain disorders and diseases. So there
is that connection for us because of our parents."
Washington credits his wife for getting him involved even though at first she
was reluctant to take on more fundraising.
"When a good friend of mine first told me about Dr. Black and how they needed
to support his pioneering work, I said 'No, no we shouldn't. I am done. I already
have too much to do because Denzel and I don't put our names on anything unless
we are very involved.'"
But the Washingtons did lend their names and did get very involved.
"I went and heard Dr. Black speak," Pauletta recalls. "I heard his passion
and I was instantly sold. So I decided that we had to find more money for him
because he was generating incredible success with his work, but the only thing
standing in his way was the money. And that was just unbelievable to us because
here we are in one of the richest cities in the world. And we can't get him
money for his medical research?"
"I support everything my wife does and she knew that we could help Dr. Black,"
says Washington, who is currently filming his next movie in Mexico. "All the
people we know are good people and she knew that if Dr. Black was brought to
their attention that we could do something."
And Pauletta has.
For over five years the Washingtons have helped The Brain Trust raise funds
for Dr. Keith L. Black and his team's research. Recently, the Brain Trust held
Braintastic, a family carnival-style fundraiser at the Warner Brothers
Studio back lot.
The benefit honored Brain Trust founder Linda Burrows and was attended by such
Hollywood stars as Orlando Jones, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Forest Whitaker,
Debbie Allen, Mo'Nique and Angie Everhart.
The money generated by the event will fund research aimed at helping the estimated
50 million Americans afflicted with neurological disorders. There are currently
more than 600 disorders that affect the nervous system, including:
- Brain tumors
- Parkinson's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease)
"The incidence of brain diseases is increasing -- especially when we discuss
Alzheimer's," Pauletta notes. "But one of the most shocking things I have learned
is that the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in children is brain tumors."
"We have made very exciting progress in treating brain tumors," reports Black,
who is the director of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"In the 1960's few children survived brain tumors. Today, we can cure up to
55% in many cases."
One of the major advances discovered by Black and his team is a vaccine for
"We have treated over 50 patients in the last five years and we are very encouraged,"
Black says. "Patients who had a life expectancy of four or five months are still
Black is one of the country's leading neurosurgeons and has performed over
3000 brain operations to date. According to Black, the Institute will perform
over 1000 brain surgeries this year.
"We aren't just about brain surgery," Black says. "We are trying to accelerate
the pace of discovery and treatments for disorders that affect the human nervous
system. This includes creating advances that can be effective in the treatment
of not only brain tumors but also strokes, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's
and other neurological disorders."
According to Black, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with brain
tumors. In about 30,000 of these cases, the tumors originate in the brain. The
remaining cases are accounted for by cancers that originate elsewhere and later
migrate to the brain.
And that's a big problem for neurosurgeons and physicians.
Once tumors establish residency in the brain, reaching them with chemotherapy
and other medications is prevented by a biological force field of sorts called
the blood-brain barrier.
"The capillaries in the brain are very different from those in the rest of
the body," Black explains. "They do not allow chemotherapy and other medications
to cross into the brain where the tumor is located."
As an example, Black says that 60% of patients who develop lung cancer will
also develop a secondary tumor in the brain. But while the response rate to
chemotherapy can be as high as 70% for one type of lung cancer, once the tumor
moves to the brain that success rate plummets to only 10%."
"We have been able to basically identify the very subtle differences that exist
between the capillaries in brain tumor and normal brain capillaries," Black
notes. "And we have been able to activate certain molecular receptors in these
brain tumor capillaries that allow the increased delivery of drugs across those
tumor capillaries. Essentially our technology will no longer allow these tumors
to essentially hide in the brain."
This breakthrough also promises to benefit other diseases like multiple sclerosis,
Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and perhaps even autism.
"We know that 98% of all the drugs that are potentially beneficial to treat
disorders in the brain cannot get into the brain in sufficient quantities to
be effective," Black adds. "Our technology will allow for a whole new opportunity
for treatment that wasn't available before."
Black is also encouraged by advances his team has developed in microwave ablation
treatment. This therapy uses focused microwave energy to destroy the tumor without
the need to do an open operation. Doctors would be able to destroy the tumor
right in the MRI or CT scanner and avoid having a patient undergo major surgery.
"We have tried to create a mini Manhattan Project where we assemble the best
researchers and physicians and bring them together here at the institute in
the hopes of not only rapidly accelerating the research but also the care for
patients," Black says.
"Braintastic is about celebrating both the family and the extraordinary work
of Dr. Black and his team at Cedars," Washington says. "Our job is easy - we
just have to raise awareness about what is being done and to make sure he has
the money to continue making people's lives better."
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Created: 7/7/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/7/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.