Surgery by Issam A. Awad, MD, saved the life of retired business executive Bill Davis when he was diagnosed with a rare brain condition. To give back and help others with brain disorders, Bill and his wife Judy of Winnetka, Illinois, established the Judy and Bill Davis Research Fund in Neurosurgery in 2013. Their initial gift of $1 million helped fuel work by Dr. Awad and his team that identified potential new ways to detect, diagnose, and treat vascular malformations in the brain that can lead to stroke. Building on this impetus, the Davises have now committed an additional $1 million to help Dr. Awad's lab launch clinical trials that can bring these prospective new therapies and tools to patients.
What inspired you to make this latest gift?
Bill Davis: The progress Dr. Awad and his team have made is remarkable, offering a clear path to solutions that could have a major impact for people at risk for certain types of stroke. We did not want to see this momentum slow. We're hoping that for certain brain conditions, Dr. Awad's research can lead to a cure.
Judy Davis: We feel very privileged to be part of it.
Why do you want to support UChicago Medicine and Dr. Awad in particular?
Bill Davis: I was familiar with and interested in the University as a research institution. Then I had my own health situation and the best person in the country to handle it was at UChicago: Dr. Awad. He did a remarkable job taking care of me and, as I got to know him better, I developed a lot of confidence in his approach to research.
Judy Davis: I was very impressed with the expertise and professionalism of the care Bill received. Dr. Awad saved my husband's life. This is one way of giving back.
How do you educate yourselves to make an informed gift that can have the most impact?
Bill Davis: We do our homework on the need to be addressed, what the research is trying to accomplish, and its potential impact on care. We also educate ourselves about the person, team, and organization we're gifting to satisfy ourselves they're properly equipped, staffed, and supported to get the job done.
What excites you the most about medicine right now?
Bill Davis: Electronic sharing and analysis of data. This allows institutions working on the same problem to collaborate as teams, and is a feature of Dr. Awad's project, which involves partnership with other research groups around the world. Also, genomics has moved to the core of medical research, which has accelerated productivity—it's amazing how fast teams can run tests. Combined with smart, dedicated people, there are capabilities today that didn't exist previously to make real progress.
How do you reflect on the unique role philanthropy, as distinct from other funding streams, can play in spurring medical research?
Bill Davis: The federal government doesn't fund research until it is pretty far along, so philanthropy is at a premium in jump-starting research. In the U.S. today, the first phase of research will simply not get done without philanthropy.
Judy Davis: Philanthropy also helps with recruitment. Our gift will allow Dr. Awad to hire a specialist nurse to manage clinical trials, for instance