Kenny Can Foundation’s Gift Supports Glioblastoma Research

The Kenny Can Foundation recently presented UT Southwestern Medical Center with a check for $50,000, the Foundation’s second grant to the medical center in support of promising research that could one day uncover new treatment options for glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. Established in memory of Kenny Dennis, a Brinker International executive who lost his own battle with glioblastoma in 2002, the Kenny Can Foundation has raised more than $1 million to support brain cancer research and provide assistance to those affected by this deadly disease.

Kenny Dennis was a dynamic leader who treated everyone he met like his best friend. During his highly successful career, he helped Brinker International become one of the most recognized restaurant companies in the world. “He was an amazing success at everything he pursued, but he always made his family the most important part of his life,” said Nancy Dennis, Kenny’s widow and founder of the Kenny Can Foundation.

"When Kenny was first diagnosed, we had such an overwhelming show of love and support from all of his friends, the Dallas community, and so many different parts of the food service industry,” Nancy added. “When Kenny passed away, instead of people giving generously to me, I wanted to channel that support towards finding a cure for glioblastoma."

From Left: Elizabeth Maher, MD, PhD; Ralph DeBerardinis, MD, PhD; Craig Malloy, MD; Nancy Dennis; John Anderson; and Katy Einspanier

The grant from the Foundation is supporting the work of Dr. Elizabeth Maher, associate professor of internal medicine, and Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis, assistant professor of pediatrics. Drs. Maher and DeBerardinis are part of an interdisciplinary team of scientists and clinicians at UT Southwestern collaborating on glioblastoma research and treatment, under the direction of Dr. Bruce Mickey, vice chairman of neurological surgery and holder of the William Kemp Clark Chair in Neurological Surgery.

The experienced team is closely following patients who have survived after developing a brain tumor (glioma), hoping to develop new therapies to treat this devastating disease, which is often resistant to treatment. “The sad truth is that right now we don’t have a curative treatment for malignant gliomas, but I don’t think we’re far from having some treatment that will inactivate the tumor and meaningfully prolong life,” Dr. Mickey said. “We meet our responsibility to patients by learning from their experiences – even if we learn that something doesn’t work.”

Groundbreaking research is already underway to understand how normal cells transform into cancer cells in the brain, a critical step in identifying ways to inactivate brain tumors. These discoveries are driven largely by a collaborative spirit and intense sense of urgency across multiple disciplines and centers throughout the UT Southwestern campus. Experts in imaging and radiology, pathology, physiology, and pediatrics work together on clinical and translational studies aimed at identifying the critical metabolic pathways that drive unregulated tumor-cell growth in the brain.

From Left: Jaclyn Dennis, Doug Brooks, Ellen Haynes

"When we were first introduced to this incredible team of doctors at UT Southwestern and they explained to us the work they are doing, we were just completely amazed,” said Nancy. “It’s unbelievable how this group is working together for one single cause—a cure."

One of Kenny’s favorite sayings, “life is good,” reminds those who knew him of his positive attitude about life and people.  And the stories of Kenny’s “can-do” spirit are an inspiration to the UT Southwestern researchers and clinicians who remain committed to giving patients with glioblastoma hope for new treatments.

For more information about the Kenny Can Foundation please visit www.kennycan.org