By Laura Kurtzman, UCSF News
The Atlantic Philanthropies is awarding UC San Francisco and Trinity College Dublin and the University of Dublin, $177 million to create the Global Brain Health Institute, a groundbreaking venture to stem the precipitous rise in dementia by training and connecting a new generation of leaders worldwide.
The $177 million to establish the Global Brain Health Institute is the largest program grant ever made by the Atlantic Philanthropies, founded by Charles “Chuck” Feeney. Here, Feeney (second from left) and his wife, Helga, join UCSF leaders for the 2014 opening of the UCSF Mission Hall building, which the couple also supported.
“Our goal is to create a generation of leaders around the world who have the knowledge, skills and drive to change both the practice of dementia care and the public health and societal forces that affect brain health,” said Christopher G. Oechsli, president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies.
“By doing so, we hope to reduce dramatically the number of older people who develop this disease, which affects disproportionally those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and consumes not just the millions directly afflicted, but their families and caregivers as well,” he said.
Co-led by UCSF and Trinity College Dublin, the initiative will train 600 global leaders over 15 years in the U.S., Ireland and across the world, including in Cuba and other Latin American countries, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia, South Africa and Australia – to carry out dementia research, deliver health care, and change policies and practices in their regions. In doing so, GBHI will be engaging with other institutions and partners around the world.
By 2050, experts warn, the number of people with dementia, now about 48 million worldwide, will more than triple, yet fewer than two dozen countries, including the United States and Ireland, have focused on this looming crisis.
While the causes of some forms of dementia are genetic and other forms, including Alzheimer’s disease, appear to involve multiple factors, research suggests that up to 30 percent of cases can be prevented through public health and lifestyle interventions. This means attending to cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, lifestyle factors like diet, sleep, exercise and smoking, and psychological factors like depression and loneliness.
The institute will begin with two programs. The GBHI Fellows Program will train eight fellows a year – four each at UCSF and Trinity College Dublin – for up to two years. An Exchange Scholars Program will engage up to 32 multidisciplinary scholars at UCSF and Trinity for up to a year. Some fellows and scholars will resemble traditional biomedical trainees, with MD, PhD or RN degrees, while others will be more policy focused and may come into the program with bachelor’s or master’s degrees or with work experience in cognate fields. Applicants for the exchange scholars program may come from a wide variety of fields.
“We want to train leaders, not just in medicine and public policy, but also social science, journalism, law, business and the arts, who can teach others about the preventable causes of cognitive impairment, which disproportionately affect the poor,” said Bruce Miller, MD, a behavioral neurologist and director of the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF who will lead the initiative with Ian Robertson, PhD, a neuroscientist at Trinity College. “That way, we can help change the course of this disease and protect vulnerable people around the world.”