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Valley Entrepeneur Makes Generous Gift to BBTRC


Ray Thurston, Barrow donor, in his office. When Valley entrepreneur Ray Thurston decided to make a $3-million gift to the Barrow Brain Tumor Research Center (BBTRC) at Barrow Neurological Institute, writing a check was only part of the equation. Just as important to the fledgling center was the business expertise that Thurston brought to the table.

As part of his gift, Thurston—founder of SonicAir, a logistics company he sold to UPS in 1995—sat down with Nader Sanai, MD, director of the BBTRC, to take a close look at the research project his donation is supporting. Thurston’s goal was to help Dr. Sanai enhance efficiency, cut costs and focus the project’s short- and long-term objectives. Out of these meetings came a Gantt chart that details each step in the research project and that serves as a roadmap for Dr. Sanai and as an evaluation tool for Thurston.

“This is certainly the most detailed and thoughtful planning process I have ever been a part of. It increases our chances of success exponentially,” said Dr. Sanai. “Ray pored over our timeline and said, ‘Let’s run all these processes in parallel. Cost is not an issue.’ As a result, we have compressed an ambitious project from five to three years and reduced the expense of the project, too.”

In addition to improving the research process, Thurston built financial incentives into his gift agreement.

“My donation requires that Dr. Sanai achieve certain goals on a quarterly basis, and if he achieves those goals, I write a check,” Thurston said. “I think that today’s benefactor is more interested in outcomes. Those organizations that can provide outcomes are going to attract more investments.”

Hear Thurston talk about his gift in the video below.

According to the gift agreement, Dr. Sanai can keep and redirect any money saved through the efficiency measures that Thurston recommended, giving the BBTRC additional dollars for research. “It’s refreshing,” said Sanai. “It motivates you to constantly reassess yourself and those on your team.”

The project Thurston is funding will use spectroscopy to develop a metabolic profile of cells in brain tumor tissue. That profile will then be used to identify cancerous brain cells in patients so that the cells can be destroyed with focused radiosurgery.

Thurston said he enjoys meeting with Sanai and his research team. “It’s a great joy to work with these really bright people doing something that’s going to help medicine in the future.”

As for Sanai, he views Thurston as much more than a benefactor.

“He’s been a critical partner, really a genius innovator in terms of getting things done in the laboratory, and it has completely changed the way we approach and conduct our science.”

Hear Thurston talk about the BBTRC project and his gift:

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