Alzheimer’s disease research gets multi-million dollar boost

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S. There is no cure.

By 2025, the number of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is projected to grow by 40 percent. Texas is expected to see an increase of nearly 50 percent in that same time.

“One in nine of us over the age of 65 is going to develop this disease,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the UT Health Science Center. “The costs are incalculable.”

To help address the need, the Health Science Center is working to establish a comprehensive Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease institute to offer patient care and support for caregivers while simultaneously developing effective therapies for early prediction, prevention and cures, Dr. Henrich said.

“We have a responsibility to lead the effort in providing a comprehensive, compassionate network of care for Alzheimer’s patients and their families,” he said. “We also must lead medical research to relentlessly search for new, much-needed therapies, including clinical trials, that will advance the field and offer promise for improved patient care, now and for the future.”

In less than a year, the university has raised nearly $30 million toward the creation of the institute. This vision was spurred by a $5 million gift from the J.M.R. Barker Foundation and a challenge to match the gift with additional community philanthropy and other external support for the institute.

“The Health Science Center has stepped forward to address a growing and serious health problem that is devastating to patients, and their families and loved ones, in this region and across the country,” said Ben Barker, board member of the Barker Foundation and member of the Health Science Center Development Board. “Our foundation is committed to investing in this vision for families.It touches all of us.

“If there is any area of science that needs a breakthrough, it is Alzheimer’s.”

The vision for the institute is to adopt the approach of a patient-centered medical home, grounded in comprehensive and continuous care for patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. It will also offer social, psychological and other support programs for caregivers to continue providing care while also maintaining their own health and well-being.

Neuroscience research already makes up one-third of the science at the Health Science Center, Dr. Henrich said, and the institute would build upon that and add educational programs to provide more health care workers specializing in the care of patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

“Establishing the Alzheimer’s institute is of the highest importance to our university,” Dr. Henrich said. “We see a tremendous public health need on the horizon, and we recognize that we are positioned to address it in a substantive way.”

Texas is ranked third in the country in the estimated number of Alzheimer’s disease cases and second in the number of related deaths.

And as the Hispanic population continues to increase—Texas is projected to become a majority Hispanic state between 2025 and 2035—so too will the number of Alzheimer’s patients. Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than non-Hispanic whites.

“Texas and San Antonio are right in the sights of this disease,” Dr. Henrich said. “This gift from the Barker Foundation, and the many others we have received for this critical endeavor, will allow us to provide the research and compassionate and expert care to address the critical need for the growing number of families and patients who are facing this serious and challenging condition.”

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