A Physician's Love for Philosophy Grows Into a Passion for Practicing Medical Oncology to Help Patients

As an oncologist, Evanthia Galanis, M.D., sees the anguish cancer can bring to families, including her own. Her philosophy in her lab and practice is simple — patients need answers quicker. Dr. Galanis brings this perspective from her research and clinical experience to her new role as Mayo Clinic’s executive dean for Development, where she’s seen the impact visionary philanthropy can have when joined with Mayo Clinic’s patient-centered values.

Evanthia Galanis, M.D., grew up in a house brimming with books, which her father would bring home by the dozen.

It was through the works of classical writers that a young Eva found her initial calling — as a scholar of ancient literature and philosophy.

As college approached, however, her thoughts turned increasingly to how she could make a difference in the lives of others. She was inspired in large part by her parents, who modeled the importance of volunteering and helping those in need.

“I realized that if I were to follow my initial path, my work would likely only be of academic interest, rather than truly having an impact on the lives of others,” Dr. Galanis says. “Medicine, however, would give me that opportunity.”

Today, Dr. Galanis is a practicing oncologist who also directs a research laboratory that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for the past 18 years, and she is a principal investigator in national clinical trials. In addition, she has served as chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine for the last 10 years and is currently leading the Gene and Virus Therapy Program of the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center.

This year, she took on a new leadership position at Mayo Clinic as the executive dean for Development. It’s a role in which she focuses on advancing the mission of Mayo Clinic by fostering philanthropic support for the organization’s most important efforts in practice, research and education.

“I see an opportunity to make a difference on a larger scale,” she says.

Our Patients Do Not Have Years to Wait

In addition to her leadership roles at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Galanis leads a number of national and international collaborations for cancer research. She serves as chair of the Neuro-Oncology Committee of the cooperative group Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology and is co-chair of the Glioblastoma Working Group and U.S. lead for the international rare brain tumor initiative.

“I did not structure my career with any particular opportunity or position in mind,” she says. “Each step of the way was more about how I could make the greatest impact in the lives of our patients by combining the best science with the best delivery of medicine, and bridging the two.”

Dr. Galanis talks with a sense of urgency for advancing new treatments fast. This urgency is inspired by both her work with patients with cancer and the cancer journeys of family members.

“Both my daily professional encounters with the pressing needs of our patients with cancer and my personal experience through my family’s cancer journeys reinforce that our patients do not have years to wait,” she says. “The way I see it is that we need better answers yesterday!”

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Hippocratic Inspiration

Since childhood, Dr. Galanis has been deeply influenced by ancient literature and philosophy. Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician often referred to as the Father of Medicine, represented one of the first reference points in her career as a physician and scientist.

Dr. Galanis attended Athens University School of Medicine, which has a strong tradition of teaching Hippocratic thinking in medicine. When she graduated as valedictorian of her class, she followed university tradition by reciting the Hippocratic oath in ancient Greek in front of her classmates at the graduation ceremony.

“Going back to this oath, certain things still stand out, including the integrity and ethical principles in the practice of medicine, and the patient being the central focus and inspiration,” she says.

When Dr. Galanis visited Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as the potential location for her residency in the mid-1990s, she was struck by how Hippocratic principles were put into practice at Mayo. “I knew this was the place for me, a place where I could grow,” she says.

Philanthropy Propels the Vision

Dr. Galanis joined the staff of Mayo Clinic in 1998. Since the beginning, she says, she has seen firsthand how philanthropy plays an integral role in helping Mayo thrive.

Early in her career at Mayo Clinic, philanthropy made it possible for Dr. Galanis to start her first laboratory. She says that benefactor support helped her pursue novel ideas in cancer therapeutics and rapidly translate them to clinical use with patients, with findings that subsequently led to publications, extramural funding and academic recognition.

“My career trajectory would likely have been entirely different if it were not for the trust that benefactors bestowed on my work when I was a young investigator,” she says.

At the core of Mayo Clinic, Dr. Galanis says, is the transformative philanthropy of Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo and their wives, Hattie and Edith, who in 1919 donated the assets of Mayo Clinic and the majority of their life savings to establish Mayo as a not-for-profit organization. This gift would be worth more than $100 million today.

As Mayo Clinic pursues a bold and innovative strategy to transform health care over the next decade and beyond, Dr. Galanis says philanthropy is more important than ever to achieve advances for patients.

“The biggest opportunity is to expand our reach to the rest of the world and essentially disrupt and transform health care while strengthening our core values and expertise, which make care at Mayo Clinic unique,” she says. “Philanthropy can allow us to propel this vision much faster than we otherwise would be able to.”

In the meantime, as the Sandra J. Schulze Professor of Novel Therapeutics, Dr. Galanis continues to see the impact of philanthropy in finding answers for patients. Work made possible by the professorship focuses on pursuing advances in virotherapy, an innovative way to treat cancer by modifying viruses to stimulate patients’ immune systems.

“Endowed professorships are a huge honor because they represent our highest academic distinction at Mayo Clinic,” Dr. Galanis says. “This benefactor funding has a continuous effect since it makes it possible for Mayo Clinic to reward exceptional academic contributions and foster paradigm-shifting science from one generation to the next.”

As she steps into her role as executive dean for Development, Dr. Galanis is looking forward to helping take the already successful fundraising activities at Mayo Clinic to a new level.

“Mayo Clinic was created as the result of philanthropy and is thriving because of philanthropy,” she says. “Our benefactors make creating the future of Mayo Clinic possible.”

Mayo Clinic is solving the world’s most serious and complex medical challenges — one patient at a time.

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