Gauntt Foundation gifts UF veterinary college with $3 million for equipment to treat cancer patients

Varian Edge LINAC
The new Varian Edge linear accelerator will offer UF veterinary oncologists the ability to better treat animals needing radiation therapy for certain types of cancer. (Photo courtesy of Varian)

By Sarah Carey

The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has received a $3 million gift from the Joanne W. Gauntt Foundation to purchase a new linear accelerator, or LINAC, that will enhance radiation oncology treatment for small animal cancer patients from throughout the Southeast.

The Edge LINAC, manufactured by Varian, will replace the 15-year-old equipment currently in use at UF’s Small Animal Hospital. Its acquisition will position UF as only the second veterinary college in the country to own the leading-edge technology, representing a level of care that is seen in  top human health care centers, college administrators said.

“This truly transformative gift will enhance our ability to effectively treat tumors inside areas of the chest and abdomen where movement occurs due to breathing — areas our current equipment won’t allow us to access — through the highly targeted delivery of radiation,” said the college’s interim dean, Dana Zimmel, D.V.M.

“Additionally, the new accelerator will enable us to further our efforts in translational research,” she added. “We are beyond grateful to the Gauntt Foundation for recognizing the impact this equipment will have on small animal cancer patients who come to us with specific needs for radiation oncology treatment, and for supporting our patient-care mission in this way.”

UF veterinary radiation oncologists have developed many of the modern techniques used to treat cancer in animals, working on some of the most complex cases in the nation and conducting groundbreaking research to improve outcomes. The college is currently one of only a handful of institutions in the Southeast offering radiation oncology to small animal patients through the use of a linear accelerator with cone-beam CT, allowing for the treatment of many types of tumors in the brain and some in the limbs. The current LINAC in use by the college is no longer able to be maintained by its manufacturer, representing an ominous situation for patients in the event of potential operational failure, administrators said.

In addition to offering greater treatment capabilities, the new Edge LINAC is faster to use, resulting in less time under anesthesia for patients, said Keijiro Shiomitsu, D.V.M., an associate professor of radiation oncology with the college.

“I am very excited to work with the Varian Edge, since this is one of the best radiation machines in the world,” Shiomitsu said. “Not only will we be able to provide even better radiation therapy treatment for the patient, but having it also will be a wonderful education and research opportunity for us.”

The college will name its small animal hospital atrium after Gauntt in appreciation of the gift.

An avid horsewoman and animal lover all of her life, Gauntt established the foundation in 1999 as an expression of her love for horses, dogs and all companion animals, said her brother, Michael Weintraub, of Miami, who took over management of the foundation after Gauntt’s death in 2017.

Although she grew up in Miami, Gauntt later moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to pursue her passion for breeding and training American Saddlebreds, which she’d been drawn to and competed in horse shows with as a girl. She went on to establish a national reputation, not only for her riding ability, but also her ability to identify and develop outstanding American Saddlebred show horses.

Perhaps the most celebrated horse she owned was Glory Kalarama, a gelding, which won the five gaited stakes at both the Kentucky State Fair and the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden. As a result of those victories, Glory Kalarama was named Reserve World Grand Champion in 1968.

The foundation’s mission is to provide care in many different ways for companion animals, including through colleges of veterinary medicine, Weintraub said. He said one of his first responsibilities after taking over the foundation’s management duties was to find out “who are the best people around” for taking care of companion animals.

“I hadn’t had a lot of experience with that,” he said. “I quickly learned that UF was one of the top veterinary schools in the nation, and since the foundation was based here in Florida, it was natural for us to take a look at it as a possible recipient of support from the Gauntt Foundation.”

Weintraub contacted his longtime friend and business associate, Al Pareira, who unbeknownst to Weintraub, had made several charitable contributions to the college.

“When I called Al to ask if he had any connections at the UF veterinary school, he informed me that not only did he know people there, he had been kind of involved with the school and had taken his animals there,” Weintraub said. “He raved about it.”

A meeting with college administrators soon ensued, during which various programs the college had pinpointed as in need of support were discussed. The possibility of a new LINAC intrigued Weintraub, in large part because he learned that owners of small animals from not just Florida, but the entire Southeast and elsewhere, brought their pets to UF for cancer treatment.

“We learned that UF has a reputation for providing this kind of treatment,” Weintraub said. “It was our desire to not only have the gift focus on UF, but to extend animal care beyond state borders. We wanted to do something significant, and this was apparently at the top of the college’s list of things they needed. So it was good timing for all of us, I think.”