Each year, tens of thousands of men sacrifice their prostates on the operating table. The surgery renders many impotent or incontinent. Yet the majority of those diagnosed with prostate cancer would live just as long with no treatment at all, they just don’t know it.
Richard Shipley is hell-bent on changing that.
“It’s Dark Ages medicine,” says Shipley (Questrom’68,’72), who was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago. He ultimately sought out a new treatment called focal laser ablation, which is far less invasive and damaging than a prostatectomy. “There are options, good options, that men don’t necessarily hear about and I want to get that message out.”
Last year, the BU trustee gave the School of Medicine $10.5 million to create a prostate cancer research center on the Medical Campus, along with a comprehensive website with information about treatment options. The new center will focus on personalized medicine, finding genomic approaches to better determine which cancers are aggressive and need to be removed or radiated and which can be dealt with less aggressively, eliminating unnecessary procedures with devastating side effects.
Shipley, who compares his treatment to a lumpectomy versus a radical mastectomy for women with breast cancer, only learned of his option from “Dr. Google.” For doctors, the nature of the disease often makes it difficult to distinguish a slow-growing form of cancer from one that may need more immediate and aggressive attention. Such uncertainty leads to overtreatment and a diminished quality of life.
Shipley, who is the founder of Shiprock Capital, a private equity firm investing in early- and expansion-state technology companies, has allocated $400,000 a year for 15 years to fund research projects, such as developing genetic tests to determine the threat posed by lesions, or blood or urine tests to screen high-risk individuals. His gift will also create an endowed professorship designated as “at any rank”—full, associate, or assistant professor—to allow BU to choose the candidate most at the forefront of the research.
“We are all very excited about this gift, which will catalyze research around determining the optimal treatment for a specific patient,” says Karen Antman, medical school dean and provost of the Medical Campus.