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Wayne State University’s School of Medicine receives $8.5 million gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch to develop innovative surgery technology in Detroit

July 16, 2014

DETROIT– Wayne State University has received an $8.5 million gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch for the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine. The gift will create the Ilitch Chair for Surgical Innovation and establish an unrestricted fund to support research and development in surgical technologies. In recognition of the Ilitches’ generosity, Wayne State University will name the department the Michael and Marian Ilitch Department of Surgery.

“Michael and Marian Ilitch have made a transformative investment in the Department of Surgery at our medical school,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “Their commitment will help continue the department’s legacy of achievement. It also will advance research, which will inform the future of surgery and position Wayne State as a leader in health care innovation.”

The WSU Department of Surgery – chaired by Donald W. Weaver, M.D. – is home to many surgical innovations, including the world’s first successful heart pump in 1952, a neutron beam cancer therapy machine and the development of tools that enabled the world’s first pediatric robotic surgery. The department’s current work focuses on surgery simulation, medical devices, advanced data analytics and biologic therapies for cancer.

“We’ve made this gift to support the life-saving work of Dr. Weaver and his team at Wayne State University,” said Michael Ilitch. “We think of this as an investment in the future of health care that will support a great educational institution and benefit the people of Detroit, the state of Michigan and beyond.”

“This gift is also about advancing Detroit as a center for healthcare innovation,” added Marian Ilitch. “Our community is rightfully proud of Detroit’s growing reputation as a center for high-tech health care. We are happy that our gift will help spur even more local innovation in this field, while attracting new people, companies, and jobs to Detroit and Southeast Michigan.”

“Surgery is becoming more minimally invasive, more technology oriented and more image guided,” Dr. Weaver said, “and it’s going to be a completely different world in 20 to 30 years. This gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch provides an enormous opportunity to ensure that we are a world-class program in surgical technology and that we are on the front lines leading innovation.”

Surgical innovations underway within the department include the development of the world’s first patient-specific surgical simulator. This technology will enable a surgeon to practice procedures on a 3-D replica constructed from a patient’s CT scans. With practice, surgeons can identify the best approach for treatment and discover potential problems before making an incision. This simulation platform also may be used to design and test virtual models of medical devices, which can then be 3-D printed as physical prototypes. Other devices under development by the department include a “robotic finger with eyes” that will work inside the abdomen of a patient and send what it “sees” and “feels” directly to the surgeon’s finger. The Ilitches’ gift will support similar technological advances.

The WSU Department of Surgery is strengthening its advances in surgical technology through an affiliation with the Center for Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems (SSIM) at Wayne State University. Advanced minimally invasive surgical skills and image-guided surgery techniques have been integrated into the surgical training curriculum to complement the strong clinical surgery program and to prepare new generations of high-quality surgeons trained in Detroit.

The Department of Surgery at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine is comprised of sections in general surgery, surgical oncology, trauma, cardiothoracic, plastic surgery, transplantation, pediatric surgery, and vascular and minimally invasive surgery. The department is home to more than 70 residents and fellows, with 47 full-time faculty members and more than 90 clinical faculty members, as well as about 1,200 medical students performing surgical rotations. Beyond training for residents and students, the department provides a range of surgical and pre- and post-operative care to a diverse population, including many underserved patients from Detroit. The funding from the Ilitches ensures the entire community will have access to advanced health care technologies.

For Wayne State University, Michael and Marian Ilitch’s gift represents a significant leadership investment as the university moves toward the public launch of its comprehensive fundraising campaign this fall.

About Michael and Marian Ilitch

Michael and Marian Ilitch are prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists in southeast Michigan. The couple shares a commitment to developing and revitalizing the city of Detroit through high-profile investment projects and support for Detroit-based initiatives and organizations.

The Ilitches founded Little Caesars in 1959, and grew the company from a single storefront into the world’s largest carryout pizza chain. This venture laid the groundwork for the development and acquisition of numerous other businesses and sports teams. Ilitch companies include Little Caesars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment, Uptown Entertainment, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Champion Foods, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program and Olympia Development. The companies collectively employ over 21,000 people and have a total combined annual revenue of $3.1 billion.

In 2000, the Ilitches established Ilitch Charities Inc., which supports efforts focused on community development, human services, education and recreation. In addition to their charitable endeavors, the Ilitches have championed significant investment projects in Detroit. The couple purchased the Fox Theatre in 1987 and completed a full restoration of the space, returning the building to its original opulence. Milestones over the 46 years include: Little Caesars opens its first restaurant inside the City of Detroit in 1967; purchasing the Detroit Red Wings in 1982 and turning the then-struggling franchise into four-time Stanley Cup champions and one of the most respected franchises in professional sports; purchasing and restoring the historic Fox Theatre and adjacent Fox Office Center in 1987; purchasing the abandoned Hughes and Hatcher clothing store in 1987 and renovating it into what is now the Hockeytown Café and City Theatre; moving their Little Caesars world headquarters from the suburbs to downtown Detroit in 1989 during a time when most businesses were leaving the city; purchasing the Detroit Tigers in 1992 and providing the majority of funding to build Comerica Park in 2000; and opening MotorCity Casino in 1999 followed by expansion to include the MotorCity Casino Hotel in 2007. 

Today, the organization plans to develop dozens of currently underutilized blocks into an exciting, walkable and livable sports and entertainment district. This district will be anchored by a state-of-the-art arena that will serve not only as the new home of the Detroit Red Wings, but also as a platform for other sports, entertainment and community events year-round.

The couple’s unfailing love for Detroit has garnered them significant recognition for their generosity and vision for the city. The Ilitches have received numerous honors, including the key to the city of Detroit, presented to the family in 2008, as well as the National Preservation Award for the restoration of the Fox Theatre.

About Wayne State University

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering more than 370 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 28,000 students. Its School of Medicine is the largest single-campus medical school in the nation, with more than 1,200 medical students. In addition to undergraduate medical education, the school offers master’s degree, Ph.D. and M.D.-Ph.D. programs in 14 areas of basic science to about 400 students annually. For information about the Wayne State University School of Medicine, visit http://home.med.wayne.edu.

PHOTO: (Left to right) Valerie M. Parisi, School of Medicine dean; Marian Ilitch; Donald W. Weaver, Department of Surgery chair; Michael Ilitch; M. Roy Wilson, Wayne State University President. 

  • Contact: Matt Lockwood
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  • Email: mlockwood@wayne.edu
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