Private Gift Enables University Of Florida To Initiate New Statewide Alzheimer’s Research Center

Published: December 11th, 2001

Category: Health, Research

GAINESVILLE — Plans for an Alzheimer’s disease research center to be initiated as a statewide resource based at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute were unveiled today (Dec. 11) at a campus news conference.

Leaders of the Gainesville-based SantaFe HealthCare Inc. announced they will donate $1.5 million over the next three years and pledge to expand the gift to $2 million within the same time frame to support the center’s development.

“This gift, designed to bring a national Alzheimer’s research center to the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute, will directly impact the health care of Alzheimer’s patients throughout North Central Florida, as well as all Floridians,” said C. B. Daniel Jr., chairman of SantaFe HealthCare.

More than 400,000 Floridians are known to have Alzheimer’s disease.

Plans call for expanding research aimed at finding ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early, developing medications and behavioral therapies to prevent or retard its ravaging effects on brain function, and defining the multiple biological factors that cause the disease. Emphasis also will be given to improving services to patients, their families and caregivers.

The corporation’s gift will be eligible for state matching funds, which would double the donation. The money is being invested in an endowment to generate support for the center’s research and clinical programs. It also will help place UF’s McKnight Brain Institute in a strong competitive position to secure funding and designation as a national center by the National Institute of Aging, an agency of the National Institutes of Health.

“This partnership between the SantaFe HealthCare board and UF’s McKnight Brain Institute is aimed at moving Florida to the forefront in dealing with this tragic disease,” said State Sen. Rod Smith, who has worked with SantaFe HealthCare in the effort.

Dr. William Luttge, executive director of UF’s McKnight Brain Institute, said there are 30 NIH-funded Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers in the United States but none in Florida,” despite the fact we have one of the largest and fastest growing elderly populations in the nation. We plan to help fill this gap, and the brain institute will catalyze the effort by encouraging the statewide research team to use the brain institute’s high-technology facilities.”

Luttge said Alzheimer’s researchers will have access to the brain institute’s human brain tissue bank, its powerful magnetic resonance imaging machines and optical microscopes, as well as the laboratory that produces gene-delivery molecules (vectors) for use in gene therapy.

“Close to 1 in 10 seniors (4 million people) have Alzheimer’s disease today, and it is projected that 1 in 5 will have the disease by 2050 unless a cure or effective means of prevention is found,” said Jeffrey W. Dwyer, director of UF’s Institute on Aging. Dwyer also heads the division of aging in UF’s department of health policy and epidemiology. “We hope the coupling of research efforts by UF’s McKnight Brain Institute and the UF Institute on Aging will help us rapidly transfer discoveries to the care of patients.”

Dr. Kenneth Heilman, UF distinguished professor of neurology and newly appointed director of the SantaFe HealthCare Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, foresees a growing “epidemic.” He noted that by the age of 85, half of the American population will be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. “Modern medicine is helping us live longer, but it’s not doing enough to improve the quality of life for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.”

Heilman, who fills an endowed position as the James E. Rooks professor of neurology at UF and is chief of neurology services at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville, said the new center will strengthen existing research projects including:

  • Investigation of new UF-developed word-memorization and pharmacological tests that may be useful in identifying persons likely to develop Alzheimer’s — individuals who need to be monitored carefully and placed on drugs that may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Rehabilitative research aimed at determining whether medications, combined with behavioral and speech therapies, can improve performance by individuals with Alzheimer’s disease;
  • Studies aimed at better educating and assisting Alzheimer’s patients on ways to better manage daily life activities—an extension of the kinds of assistance provided weekly to patients at UF’s state-funded Memory and Cognitive Disorders Clinic directed by Heilman.

Credits

Contact
Arline Phillips-Han, newsdesk@ufl.edu

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