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Former EarthLink CEO leaves legacy for adrenal cancer

Garry Betty Foundation gives $400,000 gift to U-M for adrenal cancer research, establishes fund to raise more

added 5/2/07

Ann Arbor - When former EarthLink CEO Garry Betty was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of cancer in late 2006, he was determined to use his experience to help others and to find a cure.

Garry Betty

So he established the Garry Betty Foundation, which today announces a $400,000 gift to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center for its adrenal cancer program. The first $200,000 will be used to create the Garry Betty Scholars Program, which will pay for international researchers to come to U-M for training in adrenal cancer research.

"Throughout his life, Garry was an intense competitor and an eternal optimist who believed in the power of the human spirit," says Kathy Betty, Garry's widow. "Those very qualities led Garry to establish the Garry Betty Foundation after being diagnosed. He was determined to not only beat the odds against this rare form of cancer, but to help others as well. His spirit lives on through the work of the foundation, and I am very grateful for those who helped make this foundation a reality."

Betty, who died of adrenal cancer on Jan. 2, joined EarthLink as president and CEO in 1996, and took the company from a small regional Internet service provider with fewer than 100,000 subscribers to a national brand with more than 5 million subscribers.

"The Garry Betty Scholars Program will begin to establish Garry's legacy by supporting ongoing efforts to make U-M the center of excellence for adrenal cancer research and clinical care," says Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. "We will begin to build his legacy by training people from around the country and around the world, then sending them back to open their own programs."

The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center has one of the top adrenal cancer programs in the country, thanks largely to an endowment from former U-M football coach Bo Schembechler, whose wife, Millie, died from adrenal cancer in 1992. U-M also has one of the only multidisciplinary adrenal cancer treatment programs in the world. Typically, U-M oncologists see about 10 to 15 adrenal cancer patients per week.

Adrenal cancer is extremely rare - about 200 Americans are diagnosed with the disease each year. It is also extremely deadly, with nearly no chance of survival at five years for those diagnosed with advanced disease.

The two adrenal glands sit just above the kidney in the back and are responsible for making stress hormones and sex hormones. Tumors of the adrenal gland often make excess hormones. Depending on the type of hormone involved, this could lead to side effects such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, hair growth or sexual dysfunction. Other signs of adrenal cancer may include abdominal bloating or pain. But the symptoms are often subtle or mistaken for other conditions, making diagnosis difficult. Most patients are diagnosed after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Betty was diagnosed in mid-November 2006 with adrenal cancer, and died Jan. 2, less than two months later. He was 49.

The first two Garry Betty Scholars are Tobias Else, M.D., from Hamburg, Germany, and Alessia Trovato from Padova, Italy. They will begin their work at U-M later this year, with an option to renew for a second year.

Gary D. Hammer, MD, PhD

Hammer's laboratory research looks at how adrenal tumors develop and become cancerous, and how certain genes and proteins contribute to the process. Capitalizing on the discovery by U-M researchers that the growth of many cancers is fueled by a very small number of cells within the tumor, referred to as cancer stem cells, Hammer's lab team has begun to unravel the complex control of the adrenal stem cell. They have identified cellular pathways that become mutated in these cells and lead to the development of adrenal tumors.

Researchers hope to target new drugs or other treatments to kill the cancer stem cells. Two potential therapies are now moving into early stage clinical trials.

"One of the strengths of our adrenal group here at Michigan is that we collectively examine the basic biology of adrenal growth, engage in translational studies and treat patients with a true multidisciplinary approach," Hammer says.

The non-profit Garry Betty Foundation is soliciting additional donations on their Web site, www.thegarrybettyfoundation.org. The $400,000 gift to the Cancer Center is part of the University-wide $2.5 billion Michigan Difference campaign.

For information about giving to the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, call 734-998-6893. For information about adrenal cancer, call Cancer AnswerLine™ at 800-865-1125 or visit www.mcancer.org.

Written by Nicole Fawcett

 

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