Eisenberg Foundation Preserves a Legacy of Stewardship
George Eisenberg never forgot what his mother, Rose, told him: “You must help those who suffer hardships. Take care of others and God will take care of you.”
Three decades after his death, the George M. Eisenberg Foundation for Charities continues to help others based on the lessons that George learned early in his life.
The private foundation has supported research that transforms patient care at Mayo Clinic, across several priority areas. The foundation’s most recent gifts are supporting novel therapeutics for patients with breast cancer.
Both George and his foundation are recognized as Philanthropic Partners of Mayo Clinic. Nancy Spelsberg, one of the foundation’s directors, says she understands why George was inspired to give to Mayo Clinic.
“We’ve been so pleased with the developments and discoveries,” she says. “When you understand the direct impact on people’s lives across the world and saving lives and improving the quality of life — it’s hard not to get excited and energized about it. I know George did.”
Called to Help
George’s life story is an American classic. His childhood years were marked by hardship, but he rose out of poverty to become a successful entrepreneur.
At the turn of the century, his parents, Morris and Rose Eisenberg, fled persecution in Russia. Soon after arriving in Chicago, his father developed thyroid disease and died. His mother was pregnant with her seventh child. The family was penniless and received charity for the funeral, rent and groceries. At the age of 8, George went to work selling newspapers.
At age 21, he founded a business called American Decal and Manufacturing Company. Success followed quickly. American Decal led its industry around the world, producing everything from huge decals for truck sidings to tiny tags for license plates. In his 30s, George had enough money to retire.
Instead, George continued his work and began making many significant gifts to charity, helping people and organizations from all walks of life. His compassion was a result of his and his family’s experience.
“You have to get a feeling in your heart from someone who suffered. My mother gave me that feeling. The help my family received is a debt that can never be repaid,” he once said.
Because his father died from a lack of medical care, George had a special commitment to supporting medical research.
George was a long-time patient as well as a benefactor of Mayo Clinic. His philanthropy strengthened a wide range of Mayo Clinic programs. The main building of Mayo Clinic Hospital – Rochester, Methodist Campus, was named in his honor shortly after his death on what would have been his 90th birthday. At that time, he was the most generous benefactor of Mayo Clinic.
The George M. Eisenberg Foundation for Charities was endowed with funds from his estate to ensure his philanthropy could continue. Today, George’s impact remains as great as ever. The foundation provides annual grants in medicine and health, education, and physical, emotional and social assistance primarily for the benefit of underprivileged youth and the elderly.
“He wanted us to serve the people that couldn’t help themselves. We’re very conscious of that as a foundation,” says Katie Owens, one of the foundation’s directors.
George believed that perpetuating support for medical research would have a transformative effect in the lives of those who are sick. He also believed that Mayo Clinic would play an important role in that.
“When we’re looking to make an investment, you want to look for the biggest return that you can get,” says Thomas Spelsberg Jr., one of the foundation’s directors. “From our perspective, partnering and investing in Mayo Clinic is a good way to do that and to really reach and help so many more people than we could otherwise.”
In recent years, the foundation has supported research at Mayo Clinic that is making breakthroughs in novel therapeutics for patients with breast cancer.
This includes the Breast Cancer Genome Guided Therapy study, called BEAUTY. The study is led by breast medical oncologist Matthew P. Goetz, M.D., the Erivan K. Haub Family Professor of Cancer Research Honoring Richard F. Emslander, M.D., and breast surgeon Judy C. Boughey, M.D., the W. H. Odell Professor of Individualized Medicine.
Chemotherapy before surgery is a standard treatment for patients with aggressive breast cancer, but it doesn’t work for everyone. In BEAUTY, the goal is to determine why some patients’ tumors respond to chemotherapy while others don't, and to use that knowledge to develop new therapies for chemotherapy-resistant tumors.
Researchers in BEAUTY performed genomic sequencing on patients’ tumors and implanted tumor tissue in laboratory mice to create a living model of an individual's disease, known as a patient-derived xenograft. These models are a powerful tool to test new drug therapies and were developed in the research laboratory of Liewei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the Bernard and Edith Waterman Director, Pharmacogenomics Program, Center for Individualized Medicine.
Hope for Cures
Four clinical trials have come from research conducted by or in collaboration with the BEAUTY study. The trials are focused on cures for triple negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer.
In one study, Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that a drug approved for blood cancers can inhibit the growth of chemotherapy-resistant triple negative breast cancer. Dr. Wang’s lab found that the response to the drug decitabine depends on the presence of critical proteins. The work led to the development of a new clinical trial to test decitabine in patients with triple negative breast cancer who are most likely to benefit.
In another study, the BEAUTY team collaborated with John R. Hawse, Ph.D., a molecular biologist at Mayo Clinic. His laboratory found that the drug estradiol can inhibit the growth of triple negative breast cancer. This occurs in tumors with the estrogen receptor beta, seen in 20% of triple negative breast cancer. Mayo Clinic developed a clinical trial testing estradiol for this subset of triple negative breast cancer, which is now open in leading U.S. cancer centers.
BEAUTY investigators also collaborated with Robert W. Mutter, M.D., a Mayo Clinic radiation oncologist. His laboratory found that the combination of a drug targeting DNA repair and radiation can inhibit the growth of resistant triple negative breast cancer. Dr. Mutter is leading a national clinical trial testing the treatment combination.
A new study called BEAUTY2, led by Drs. Boughey and Goetz, is testing the drug abemaciclib for chemotherapy-resistant triple negative breast cancer. Mayo Clinic researchers have demonstrated that the drug inhibits the spread of triple negative breast cancer.
An Important Role
Support from the foundation made it possible to rapidly advance research on all of these promising therapies.
Foundation directors say they’re inspired by work that would have been meaningful to George.
“It’s just amazing what they have done with our money and actually very humbling that we as a foundation have supported something that is helping so many people,” Katie says.
The foundation recently committed to support another five years of research into breast cancer at Mayo Clinic.
“The role of benefactors in the growth of medical research is imperative,” Nancy says. “It’s almost scary, the thought that if there weren’t major benefactors and supporters of medical research — what would we effectively be leaving on the table in terms of advancements and opportunities?”
Editor's Note: The individuals featured in the photos were alone in a non-patient care, non-public setting, and therefore in compliance with Mayo Clinic’s COVID-19 safety guidelines while unmasked.