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“It should be impactful work"

May 24, 2021 by Sara Falligant

Gift from Khatib Foundation to support generations of neurosurgeons

From his first year as a Brooklyn, New York, neurosurgical resident in the early 1960s, Reza Khatib, MD, spent his career battling glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer that is difficult to treat and often fatal. Now, Khatib is partnering with Johns Hopkins, whose long history in neurosurgery includes the founding of the field, to continue his mission.

Reza-Khatib-stands-with-Georgianna-Clifford-Khatib-sitting-in-chair
Founded by Reza and Georgianna Clifford Khatib, the Khatib Foundation’s gift will support generations of neurosurgeons.

Supported by a gift from the Khatib Foundation, the Reza Khatib, M.D. Brain Tumor Research Center; the Reza Khatib, M.D. Endowed Professorship in Neurosurgery; and the Reza Khatib, M.D. and Andrew Parsa, M.D. Endowed International Fellowship will work towards advancing the fundamental understanding of brain tumors and, eventually, toward a cure.

“There’s really a legacy at Hopkins of not only delivering the best brain tumor care that’s possible for patients, but also changing the way brain tumor care is given,” explains Henry Brem, Harvey Cushing Professor in Neurosurgery and director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurosurgery. “Dr. Khatib felt that with his gift he could advance that legacy further, and we would have a high chance of success.”

Inaugural director Chetan Bettegowda will lead the Khatib Brain Tumor Research Center and focus on the treatment of glioblastoma, the most common brain tumor in adults. Glioblastoma tumors are malignant, and diagnosed patients have very poor survival rates.

“This gift is an opportunity to not just aim for short-term goals, but really for long-term advancement in glioblastoma, for folks like myself and the next generation of surgeons and physician-scientists,” Bettegowda says. “We’re interested in a variety of potential research avenues. One of the most exciting ones is using our understanding of cancer genetics.”

Improved understanding of the human immune system and how it can be harnessed to attack cancer cells has led to effective treatments for other types of cancer. Hopkins researchers will explore new ways of combining their knowledge of cancer genetics and the immune system to tackle glioblastoma. They’re focusing, for instance, on precision medicine, using targeted immunotherapy for specific brain tumor patients.

“It will become a very personalized therapy that we hope will lead to destruction of these brain tumors and elimination as a clinical problem,” Brem says. “It should be impactful work and make a significant difference for patients around the world.”

Bettegowda says the opportunity to do imminently translational research without worrying about long-term funding is incredible: “It allows people like me to focus on what’s most important: How can we help the people with glioblastoma? What’s the most impactful science, and how can we get there as quickly as possible?”

It will become a very personalized therapy that we hope will lead to destruction of these brain tumors and elimination as a clinical problem. It should be impactful work and make a significant difference for patients around the world.”

Henry Brem Harvey Cushing Professor in Neurosurgery and director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurosurgery

In addition to advancing important research, Khatib’s gift will also support the next generation of neurosurgeons with the Reza Khatib, M.D. and Andrew Parsa, M.D. Endowed International Fellowship. Inspired by his longtime friend and mentee Andrew Parsa, the fellowship will provide training for aspiring neurosurgeons. Parsa was the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Northwestern University when he died unexpectedly in 2015 at the age of 48.

“The fellowship is an avenue for him to continue supporting young, promising neurosurgeons from around the world,” explains Judy Huang, training director for the fellowship. “We have used his charge, his motivation, and his gift to bring on an incredibly talented postdoctoral research fellow in our Department of Neurosurgery, and that would not have been possible without Dr. Khatib’s gift.”

Inaugural Khatib Fellow Shahab Aldin Sattari, who completed medical school and worked as a physician in Iran before arriving in the U.S. to embark on clinical rotations, has already begun his training at Hopkins. His focus will be on clinical outcomes research in diseases such as arteriovenous malformations, stroke, brain tumors, and pain — and he will ultimately apply for a neurosurgery residency in the U.S. He hopes to take what he learns at Hopkins back to Iran.

“While my working center will be in the U.S., I also will travel to my country and treat patients there,” says Sattari, who was able to connect via Zoom with Khatib at the start of his fellowship.

Huang also has a personal connection to Khatib’s gift, a longstanding friendship with Parsa’s wife, Charlotte Shum, MD, whom she credits with connecting Khatib to Hopkins. “Charlotte added the human overlay into Hopkins and the outstanding brain tumor program that we have here,” she says.

Though Khatib has a history of philanthropy — endowing department chairs at multiple universities and establishing a hospice in Iran — Brem says Khatib’s support of Hopkins is his signature gift.

“The magnitude of the gift is unprecedented, and the longevity of the gift. It’s an endowed fund to sustain long-term. Dr. Khatib wants to use the money that he’s saved over his lifetime to fulfil the dream of working towards a solution of the glioblastoma problem,” Brem says. “This is his legacy.”

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