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News Every Day |

Ken Griffin donates $10 million to Northwestern Medicine esophageal center that will now bear his name

Ken Griffin donates $10 million to Northwestern Medicine esophageal center that will now bear his name

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who took his investment firm and largesse to Miami two years ago, is once again making a name for himself in Chicago philanthropic circles.

Griffin Catalyst, a civic engagement initiative he launched last year, announced a $10 million donation Wednesday to Northwestern Medicine to fund advanced research and treatment into esophageal diseases.

The Citadel founder’s largest gift to a Chicago organization since he left for the Sunshine State in 2022 will also rename the acclaimed Northwestern Medicine program as the Kenneth C. Griffin Esophageal Center.

“Through cutting edge research, advanced therapies, and compassionate patient care, Northwestern Medicine makes a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals who suffer from esophageal diseases,” Griffin said in a joint news release with his beneficiary.

The center conducts research and oversees treatment of swallowing issues, cancer, reflux and esophageal disorders. It treats more than 5,000 patients a year and has become a national and international destination for advanced esophageal care.

Griffin’s $10 million donation will dramatically accelerate potentially groundbreaking research at the facility. Topping the list is the creation of a virtual esophagus using artificial intelligence to minimize invasive procedures, improve diagnostics and speed up treatment for patients.

“It is extremely impactful and really puts us at a point where now we can really take some big bets and try to do some of this really innovative stuff, like create a virtual organ,” said Dr. John Pandolfino, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Pandolfino said the development of a virtual esophagus would enable doctors to take measurements of the patient with a scope, feed the information into a program and then test out options and treatments entirely through the simulation.

The virtual esophagus program would both cut down on the number of exploratory procedures and dramatically speed up therapy by suggesting the best course of treatment for each patient, Pandolfino said.

“If we get these models to work very well, then some of these tests where we have to put a tube down people’s nose and have them swallow while they’re awake, will become obsolete,” Pandolfino said. “Things that would have typically taken three to six months, we could literally do in 24 to 96 hours.”

The esophageal center is located in the Lavin Pavilion on the Northwestern Medicine campus in Streeterville.

The $10 million gift was received last year, with the formal name change effective Wednesday, according to Northwestern Medicine spokesperson Christopher King.

“We are in the process of creating the signage so it is not up yet,” King said in an email.

Last month, the Museum of Science and Industry officially added Kenneth C. Griffin to the front of its name, a rebranding that has been in the works since Griffin’s $125 million donation in 2019.

Launched in Chicago in 1990, Griffin built Citadel into one of the largest hedge funds in the world.  Griffin, who is worth more than $36 billion, according to the latest Forbes ranking, grew into a civic force, giving more than $600 million to Chicago organizations such as the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the University of Chicago during his time here.

But in June 2022, Illinois’ richest man took his investment firm and his family and moved back to his home state of Florida, offering increasingly harsh criticisms of Chicago’s crime rate on the way out.

Griffin left with a philanthropic flourish, donating more than $130 million in parting gifts to 40 Chicago organizations during his last month in Illinois.

A major Republican political donor, Griffin traded an increasingly blue state under Gov. J.B. Pritzker for a deep red state led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose Florida gubernatorial reelection bid he backed in 2022. But DeSantis did not garner Griffin’s financial support during a failed bid to become the Republican presidential nominee that ended in January. Griffin did donate $5 million to Nikki Haley’s Republican primary campaign before she pulled the plug in March.

Many of Griffin’s charitable donations have also headed south. Most of the more than $300 million Griffin has given to Florida organizations has taken place since he moved there in 2022, according to a Griffin Catalyst spokesperson.

To date, Griffin has donated more than $2 billion to organizations across the U.S., with a focus on education, science and innovation, among other areas.

While his move to South Florida may have been hard to swallow for some Chicago organizations, Griffin’s latest gift is designed to make it easier for patients to do at the Northwestern esophageal center that now bears his name.

“I think that it’s going to change a lot in terms of what we do in the esophagus,” Pandolfino said.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

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