VCU receives $104M gift for liver research
Donation from Dr. R. Todd Stravitz, foundation is largest in university's history
Dr. Richard Todd Stravitz and his family’s Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation gave an unprecedented $104 million donation to Virginia Commonwealth University to support liver research, VCU President Michael Rao announced Tuesday during his State of the University address.
The largest gift in VCU’s history, it’s also believed to be the largest publicly shared gift to support liver research in the U.S. It will support the liver institute that VCU announced it was creating in December 2021.
The gift also establishes two endowed chairs at VCU’s School of Medicine: the Arun J. Sanyal Endowed Professor of Medicine and the Phillip B. Hylemon Endowed Professor of Medicine and Microbiology.
“Words cannot capture my feelings of gratitude for the transformative gift of Dr. Todd Stravitz and the Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation,” Rao said in a statement. “Todd has made history with his incredible leadership and generosity to VCU, supporting an institute that will forever change VCU and catalyze its commitment to our work with the human liver and metabolism. This gift firmly puts the needs of patients first.”
Stravitz is a clinical professor in VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine. Before retiring in 2020, Stravitz served as medical director of liver transplantation at VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center for a decade. His mother, Barbara Brunckhorst, who died in November 2020, was the daughter of Frank Brunckhorst, founder of Florida-based deli meat company Boar’s Head Provisions Co. Inc. Stravitz’s father, noted Virginia Beach-based sculptor Richard Stravitz, is the retired chairman of Boar’s Head. The two branches of the family that control Boar’s Head entered into a court battle last year in a dispute over Barbara Brunckhorst’s shares in the company, which is privately owned and reportedly brings in about $1 billion in annual revenue. Stravitz and his sister were appointed co-executors of her estate.
For the fiscal year ending 2019, the Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation reported a total revenue of $14.5 million and charitable disbursements of $7.66 million. In each year between 2018 and 2020, the Brunckhorst Foundation donated at least $780,000 to the Sierra Club Foundation, $475,000 to the Southern Environmental Law Center, $400,000 to the Nature Conservancy, $325,000 to the Environmental Defense Fund and $225,000 to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“As a world-class researcher himself, Todd Stravitz exemplifies the power of medical research to make the world a better place,” said Dr. Arun J. Sanyal, a professor in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, who will serve as director of the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease & Metabolic Health. “With his generous, future-focused gift, Todd is ensuring that VCU’s capacity to attract outstanding minds and produce future scientific leaders is very strong for generations to come.”
About 1 in 10 Americans have some type of liver disease, according to Cleveland Clinic. The institute will align the work of VCU entities already dealing with liver disease or its effects on other organs, including the hepatology and research teams in VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, VCU Health’s Hume-Lee Transplant Center, the Massey Cancer Center and VCU Health’s Pauley Heart Center. The institute will grow research and health care teams for liver-related clinical specialties and will be able to recruit 30 to 60 researchers, faculty and staff.
Dr. Arun J. Sanyal, a professor in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, will serve as the institute’s director. He holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology, which honors his mentor, who died in 2000.
Stravitz’s gift allows VCU to accelerate the institute’s goals, including investing in microbiome research, gene editing approaches, data analytics and other tools to develop solutions to liver diseases; investing in new degree programs at the graduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral levels; and including other disciplines like engineering, pharmacy, social work and business.