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Duchossois family donates $100 million to University of Chicago Medicine

A prominent Chicago-area family is giving $100 million to University of Chicago Medicine to research how the immune system, bacteria in the body and genetics can work together to keep people healthy.

The donation from the Duchossois family is the largest single gift to University of Chicago Medicine in its history. The family has given smaller amounts to University of Chicago Medicine in the past but, with this gift, the family hopes to help spark a transformation in medicine.

Half of the gift comes from Craig Duchossois, chairman and CEO of The Duchossois Group, and his wife, Janet. The other half is from The Duchossois Family Foundation, which is made up of family members spanning three generations and includes patriarch Richard Duchossois, the chairman of Arlington International Racecourse, who started building his fortune making freight cars.

The family wants to help researchers expand their work when it comes to wellness — not just treating diseases after they take hold, said Ashley Duchossois Joyce, president of the foundation and a granddaughter of Richard Duchossois.

"A lot of the time, with illnesses and disease, we prolong death, and wouldn't it be a cool concept if we could prolong life and a healthy life?" Duchossois Joyce asked.

Researchers plan to use the money to investigate how bacteria and other microorganisms in the body — known as the microbiome — interact with the immune system and genes to keep people healthy.

They hope their work might one day lead to ways to prevent food allergies; ways to use foods and probiotics to prevent obesity; ways to use probiotics and prebiotics to improve the effectiveness of cancer drugs and antidepressants; and an understanding of how judicious use of antibiotics might lessen the effects of Alzheimer's disease, among other things.

Duchossois family members, like many people, have experienced severe food allergies, asthma and cancer firsthand, Duchossois Joyce said. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if someday those did not exist?" she said.

T. Conrad Gilliam, dean for basic science in the university's Division of the Biological Sciences, called the family's decision to focus on the microbiome "prescient."

"It ... appears that the microbiome affects nearly every organ and possibly every disease, so this is why we liked the family's idea that rather than try to go after each of these diseases, let's focus on how the microbiome can be manipulated to maintain a person's health," said Gilliam, who will lead efforts to launch the project.

The project will be called The Duchossois Family Institute: Harnessing the Microbiome and Immunity for Human Health.

Craig Duchossois said the family's decision to direct the money to University of Chicago Medicine was an easy one.

The family began contributing to University of Chicago Medicine after Richard Duchossois' wife, Beverly, was treated for cancer at what was then called the University of Chicago Hospital. She died of cancer in 1980.

Before this gift, the family had given $37 million to University of Chicago Medicine, including $21 million in 1994 that was used to establish the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine. That unit has outpatient specialty clinics, diagnostic centers and treatment facilities.

The institute won't be housed in a new, dedicated building but will rather consist of faculty, staff and new labs that will be located in existing spaces tailored for the new research programs, Gilliam said. The $100 million will fund the work for about 10 years, after which the institute is supposed to become mostly self-sustaining.

The institute will work with the university's Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to bring breakthroughs to market by partnering with industry, venture capitalists, government agencies, philanthropists and the public. Intellectual property will be licensed and could possibly be spun off for business development.

Craig Duchossois said any money made will be reinvested into the institute's work.

"If we achieve our goal of being self-sustaining, this is going to provide a platform for research of wellness for generations to come," Craig Duchossois said.

Chicago-area hospitals and medical programs have received a number of large gifts over the years.

The Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research has donated $118 million to University of Chicago Medicine since 2006, mostly to support cancer research.

Also, Shirley and Patrick Ryan, founder and former chief executive of Aon, donated millions of dollars to the new Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Streeterville, which opened in March, replacing the old Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The hospital has not disclosed the amount of that gift, but said it was the largest donation it ever received.

Northwestern University Trustee and alumnus Louis A. Simpson and his wife Kimberly K. Querrey donated $92 million to Northwestern to support biomedical research programs at the university's medical school. A new biomedical research center, now under construction on Northwestern's Chicago campus, will be named the Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center.

The largest gift ever received by the University of Chicago was $300 million from investment entrepreneur David Booth in 2008. The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business is named after him.

lschencker@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @lschencker

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