$3.8 million gift to UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute

Biomarker research for Parkinson's disease, and dementia treatment gets greenlight

A $3.8 million gift from the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation will fund an innovative, 5,000-patient biomarker study for Parkinson’s disease and dementia treatment at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

The study, led by Dr. Alberto Espay, UC professor of neurology, will be the first aimed at defining patient groups based on molecular features rather than on symptoms. The theory is that neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are each not one disease, but many, when considered from genetic and molecular perspectives — and that biomarker profiling will allow for early diagnosis and the development of disease-specific neuroprotective treatment for each molecular form.

“We are so thankful for the Gardner Family Foundation and their visionary support of our large-scale biomarker study,” said Espay, who serves as director and endowed chair at the Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders within the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

“Our team believes the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease will be complete only when a biomarker profiling is capable of identifying the molecular subtypes of disease and suggesting a disease-modifying treatment to apply to a given patient. It is a revolutionary way of thinking about these diseases—as a symptom cluster of perhaps 20 or more unique biological diseases — and we are excited to identify them and get to work on finding effective treatments.”

My father wanted to eradicate this disease for my mother. We hope that findings from this study will shed light on the many causes of neurodegenerative diseases and bring us light-years forward in finding a cure or cures.

Peggy Johns daughter of James and Joan Gardner

The biomarker study will involve 4,000 patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases of brain aging, and 1,000 healthy, age-matched controls. The study will run at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute but plans to be inclusive and representative of the Cincinnati population. The study protocol evolved from discussions within the Executive Committee of the Parkinson Study Group, the largest not-for-profit scientific network of Parkinson centers in North America.

“My father wanted to eradicate this disease for my mother,” said Peggy Johns, daughter of James and Joan Gardner. “We hope that findings from this study will shed light on the many causes of neurodegenerative diseases and bring us light-years forward in finding a cure or cures.”

“With the help of the Gardner family, the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute is setting the standard for neurologic research, treatment and education,” said UC President Neville Pinto. “Their pioneering support has helped make Cincinnati the destination for patients seeking next-level neurologic care, and we are forever grateful for them.”

In a given year, about 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

Gardner sisters with Dr. Espay

Peggy Johns and Linda Mueller, daughters of Jim and Joan Gardner.

Experts from the Parkinson Study Group predict biomarker-guided preventative or disease-modifying treatment will delay or prevent Parkinson’s and cut health care costs by nearly 50% over five years, amounting to more than $6 billion in savings.

“With this innovative study, our researchers are redefining the medical community’s understanding of neurodegenerative disease,” said Dr. Andrew Filak, Jr., interim senior vice president for health affairs and dean, UC College of Medicine. “We are grateful for the Gardner Family Foundation’s incredible support and hopeful that the resulting discoveries can provide more targeted treatment for patients suffering from Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

The contribution is the third major gift from the Gardner Family Foundation. In 2014, it gave a transformative $14 million gift to support the creation of a state-of-the-art clinical outpatient center which opened in April. In 2007, the foundation gave $5.5 million to create the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. The gift has since allowed the center to optimize the patient experience by creating a patient-centered culture.

The UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute is a collaboration of UC Health and the UC College of Medicine, and is the region’s leading treatment, research and teaching center for complex neurologic and psychiatric conditions.

Featured image at top: Peggy Johns, Dr. Alberto Espay and Linda Mueller. Johns and Mueller are the daughters of Jim and Joan Gardner. Photo/Jacyln Poeschl/UC Foundation.

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