Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment and Research
The Center is unique in many ways. Cutting-edge researchers in nanotechnology, gene therapy, neuro-chemistry, stem cell technology and genetics are working side by side with world-class clinicians including neurosurgeons, neurologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists and rehabilitation specialists to provide personalized care for each and every patient. Thanks to the generosity of Kenneth and Donna Peak, the Center provides individualized care to patients with brain, spinal and pituitary tumors and other brain and pituitary disorders to develop personalized treatment never before thought possible.
Kenneth Peak, a prominent and respected member of Houston’s oil community, had not been feeling like himself. A disciplined runner, he’d been bothered by weakness on one side of his body that was making it difficult for him to keep up his routine.
He went to see Dr. David Baskin, vice chair and residency program director of Houston Methodist Hospital’s Department of Neurosurgery and a senior member of the Houston Methodist Research Institute. The diagnosis was not good; Peak had a very aggressive tumor called a glioblastoma that had spread throughout major portions of his brain.
His survival would normally have been measured in days to weeks. After standard treatments failed, Dr. Baskin and his team explored additional novel technologies that are still in development.
“In his case, it meant sending his tumor tissue to four major genetic laboratories to analyze the entire genetic makeup of the tumor. We then took every chemotherapy agent known to man, tested them to see what worked, then combined all this information to design a highly specialized treatment. At one point in time, we even used superselective microcatheters to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly into the brain’s blood vessels that were actually feeding the tumor at the stem of his brain,” Dr. Baskin explains.
As a result of a number of treatments, Peak’s tumor shrank considerably over the course of the next several months, and he was able to remain mentally alert and physically functional.
“Mr. Peak was a very smart man,” says Dr. Baskin. “This was a man who ran major companies. He motivated people as soon as he walked into the room. He was a master at organizing new ideas and quickly creating successful ventures. He realized that this was an extraordinary effort. “We had long conversations along with his wife Donna, who is an incredible woman. She has a PhD in biochemistry and was 101 percent up-to-date with everything we were doing. She has a tremendous understanding of molecular biology. One could have very high-level scientific conversations with her and get new ideas, like speaking with a senior research colleague. Donna was instrumental in helping to design and execute Mr. Peak’s personalized treatment, and brought a creative scientific outlook to the table during our many discussions.”
At one point, Kenneth asked Dr. Baskin if the kind of out-of-the-box treatment he was getting was available for everybody. Dr. Baskin replied, “We do the best we can, and we do very well. But in order to deliver this on a larger scale, it’s always been my dream to build a brain tumor center and to have a whole bevy of people available for each and every patient -– multispecialty doctors, caregivers, nurse practitioners, research scientists -– a combined effort to try to bring this to the next level.”
In the end, the best medical science available in the world could not save Kenneth Peak. He passed away in April 2013 at the age of 67. But before he died, he and Donna made a $10 million commitment to Houston Methodist to establish the Kenneth R. Peak Center for Brain and Pituitary Tumor Treatment and Research. The Peak center, which is already up and running, should move into a beautiful new location before the end of 2015. It will be housed in Houston Methodist’s state-ofthe-art outpatient facility and will collaborate extensively with the Houston Methodist Cancer Center, under the direction of world-renowned breast cancer researcher Dr. Jenny Chang.
“Donna Peak was instrumental in this gift,” says Dr. Baskin, “because Mr. Peak looked to her to explain to him what was going on. He was a brilliant human being, and had an innate ability to grasp complex issues quickly. However, understanding neuroscience and tumor biology was like learning a foreign language to him, and Donna was his teacher. But Donna looked to him, too, to make major decisions all along the way.
“When people have cancer, one sometimes sees the very worst in families, not the best. Minor stresses turn into major rifts. Personality differences become major issues. But not with the Peaks. This is a loving and wonderful family, who rallied together to fight Ken’s cancer with their hearts, souls and minds. The captain of the ship was Donna Peak, with scientific brilliance and a profound love for Ken that one rarely has the privilege to see. She idolized him to the last second.”
In keeping with Kenneth Peak’s wish for everyone to have access to the same kind of care he received at Houston Methodist, the Peak center will offer personalized neurosurgical and cancer treatment options. It will give patients access to novel research studies not available elsewhere. Investigational therapies include immunotherapy, nanosyringes for drug delivery, mitochondrial chemotherapy “smart bombs,” stem cells, gene therapy, genomic, proteonomic and DNA profiling, and high throughput screening of every tumor to determine the most effective course of treatment. In addition to tumors originating in the brain and spine, Dr. Baskin says the Peak center will focus on cancers that have metastasized to the brain (usually from the breast or lung), as well as pituitary tumors. While pituitary tumors are rarely malignant, they can cause blindness or other life-threatening disorders due to hormonal changes, if they go untreated.
“Brain and pituitary tumors are a devastating set of diseases,” says Dr. Baskin. “We are bringing together specialists from all over the world and, using state-of-theart technology, designing novel, personalized treatment for each patient, and when possible, eradicating tumors and killing cancer.”
Dr. Baskin, who began his medical and research career at Baylor College of Medicine in 1984 and now is a professor of neurological surgery at Houston Methodist and the Weill Cornell Medical College, emphasized that Houston Methodist is covering all of the construction and operational costs, so that the gifts from the Peaks and other contributors will be devoted entirely to patient care and research. “Houston Methodist’s generosity is unusual in the medical world, where such gifts almost always have to support a portion of operational costs for the institution. Their willingness to cover construction and infrastructural costs leverages this gift and allows me to use all of these funds for what they were intended for, with the operation of the center supported by the hospital.
“We consider each patient to be unique, and know that each tumor has different genetic information and biological behaviors. The Peak center will capitalize on these differences, starting with an initial $5 million commitment to research which we hope will further our goal to provide personalized treatment using new technologies to achieve cure rates never before thought to be possible.”
For a man who spends his days getting inside people’s heads, literally, Dr. Baskin seems to have maintained the ability to not take himself too seriously. Among the weighted volumes of scientific research lining the shelves of his Scurlock Tower office is a thin book called Your Brain on Cubs, documenting the biochemical changes that apparently result from rooting for a team that has not won the World Series in more than 100 years.
But he is not kidding when he expresses his profound appreciation and gratitude for the gift he and Houston Methodist have been given by Kenneth and Donna Peak.
“How paradoxical is it that the man who had the worst of the worst, who we really couldn’t help as much as we’ve helped so many people, could still have the vision, foresight, compassion and commitment to the Houston community to provide such generous support? Here’s a man who knew he was dying, but who made this gift to help others after him. It speaks volumes about him and his family, and sets a high bar for all of us to cure brain tumors.”