Huge gifts take cancer fight to tiniest levels

Bahl in the family: (From left) Lina Obeid, Yusuf Hannun, Lalit and Kavita Bahl, Samuel Stanley Jr. and Kenneth Kaushansky welcome Stony Brook Medicine's new Center for Metabolomics and Imaging.

Consecutive gifts by philanthropists Kavita and Lalit Bahl totaling $13.75 million will fund a new Stony Brook Medicine center dedicated to understanding cancer on the most complex cellular levels.

The Kavita and Lalit Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging “advances the family’s vision to elevate Stony Brook Medicine to the cutting edge of personalized cancer research, diagnostic imaging breakthroughs and evolving individualized cancer care,” the Stony Brook University School of Medicine said in a statement.

Armed with cutting-edge imaging tools and other next-level technologies designed to map tumors with unprecedented precision, the Bahl Center represents a major step toward “understanding the metabolism of cancer at its most complicated cellular levels,” according to Stony Brook Medicine, promising to “advance cancer research and patient outcomes.”

Metabolomics is an emerging cancer-investigation field focused on determining cancer’s metabolic pathways – a key, according to some researchers, for unlocking new answers to questions about cancer-cell development and proliferation.

The Bahl Center, which was officially welcomed with a Dec. 1 dedication ceremony, is housed in the Stony Brook University Cancer Center. Under the guidance of SBU Cancer Center Director Yusaff Hannun, who boasts over three decades as a cancer clinician and researcher, and Lina Obeid, dean of research at the School of Medicine, the center unites metabolomics experts with SBU researchers from various fields, including cancer biology, medical imagining and computational oncology.

The center’s next-generation imaging and metabolomics technologies will allow researchers to “break new ground in cancer research and care,” according to Stony Brook Medicine, primarily by identifying and monitoring “diagnostic cancer biomarkers,” discovering new cellular targets for cancer treatments, better tracking patient responses and analyzing molecules to create “innovative radiotracers for translational imaging studies,” among other advances.

“These gifts establish the Stony Brook University Cancer Center as home to a revolutionary new metabolomics and imaging center devoted to cancer research which will lead to translational breakthroughs,” SBU President Samuel Stanley Jr. said Thursday. “The totality of these two incredible gifts from Kavita and Lalit Bahl, both generous and visionary, will have a decades-long impact on cancer research, medical treatments and patient care.”

The Bahls launched the new Center for Metabolomics and Imaging with an initial gift of $3.5 million in 2014, covering the purchase of a cyclotron needed to create novel tracers for use with PET scanning.

They followed that stipend with a further $10.25 million pledge in 2015, allowing Stony Brook Medicine to proceed with Phase 1 of an expansion effort that will ultimately result in “revolutionary research” and allow the Bahl Center to “recruit top faculty experts in all related fields,” the medical school said.

Phase II will eventually expand the center’s groundbreaking expertise to include “experimental therapeutics,” the university added.

Lalit Bahl – an employee of East Setauket-based investment-management firm Renaissance Technologies who lost his mother, grandmother, sister and “many, many” other relatives to cancer – said he and his wife are “very interested in supporting cancer research, because my family has been so greatly affected by cancer.”

“I would like to see this not happen to other people,” Bahl said. “We believe research is necessary to improve treatment and greatly reduce the death rate of these terrible diseases.”

The Bahls’ financial support is “transformative,” according to Hunnan.

“It will add momentum to our research endeavors in cancer and impact our patients,” the Bahl Center director said. “Metabolomics … represents one of the most promising approaches in cancer therapy, as it enables scientists to target pathways not previously thought possible with cancer drugs.”