What is the best way to attack the problem of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias?
Collaboratively, say Brown University’s faculty members working in this field. Nearly 60 principal investigators at Brown and its affiliated hospitals received a total of more than $40 million in federal funding for Alzheimer’s research in 2020 alone, earning Brown its top 20 ranking for research on the disease. But these investigators know that working together and sharing information about different aspects of the disease is the path to significant breakthroughs.
Now, Brown has received $30 million in new gifts to establish the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research with the aim of building a world-class research program focused on early detection and treatment.
The center integrates the expertise of scientists and physicians at Brown’s Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science and the Division of Biology and Medicine, home to The Warren Alpert Medical School. Its launch is made possible by gifts of $25 million and $5 million from donors who wish to remain anonymous.
Diane Lipscombe, a professor of neuroscience at Brown who leads the Carney Institute, is the initial director of the center. She notes that despite scientific progress over the years, there is still much to learn about the biology of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
“Ultimately, our work will contribute to a more thorough understanding of the most fundamental mechanisms involved in neurodegeneration, which will enable earlier diagnosis as well as the creation of treatments that will not just slow degeneration but also prevent it,” Lipscombe said.
Lipscombe has directed Brown’s brain science institute since 2016, a period over which its scholars have made new advances in developing assistive technologies to restore communication and mobility to people affected by paralysis; created new tools to map brain circuits that control behaviors; and developed computational software that is producing groundbreaking insights into the nature of rhythmic brain activity.
“At Carney, we’ve been able to achieve a lot in a short period of time by working within the collaborative, cross-disciplinary environment that is Brown University,” Lipscombe said. “With this Alzheimer’s disease center, we will similarly create the framework for scholars in basic science to interact with clinical researchers in our affiliated hospitals. When there’s a common drive to make an impact among so many talented experts across fields, that’s when you have enormous potential to really change the trajectory of this disease.”
Dr. Jack A. Elias, who leads biology and medicine at Brown, recalled a moment several years ago when the idea for the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research started to crystallize.
“After yet another disappointing announcement that a pharmaceutical effort to treat Alzheimer’s had failed, it became clear that it was time to bring new expertise and perspective to bear on this challenge,” Elias said. “Brown not only has a tremendous amount of talent in basic science research and discovery, but also excellent clinical activities and world-class Alzheimer’s care at its affiliated hospitals. The new gifts and the launch of this center make it possible to bring all those brilliant people together to look at this disease in a different way.”
The $25 million investment from the new center’s lead donor, and the additional $5 million gift in support, mark major progress toward an initial fundraising goal of $50 million for the center and come as part of the University’s BrownTogether campaign, which has raised $2.88 billion to date. The gifts also build on major philanthropic support for Brown’s cutting-edge work in brain science — of the total contributed to BrownTogether to date, more than $218.3 million has been raised to support research and education in brain science.