The University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson has received a $5 million gift from the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Foundation® to establish an Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute. The UA is one of only four universities in the country to establish a McKnight Brain Institute, joining the Universities of Florida, Alabama and Miami.
The UA Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute will investigate the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms of age-related memory loss and declines in cognitive performance (the ability to learn, perceive and reason). Little is known about the underlying causes, prevention or restoration of age-related memory impairment -- which affects millions of Americans, primarily over age 50.
The UA McKnight Brain Institute was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in June and officially will be established Nov. 1 as part of the Arizona Research Laboratories (ARL) Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging at the UA. The Institute will be housed in the Life Sciences North Building on the UA's Arizona Health Sciences Center campus.
The UA McKnight Brain Institute will be directed by Carol A. Barnes, PhD, Regents Professor of psychology, UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Regents Professor of neurology, UA College of Medicine; research scientist, ARL Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging; and member, BIO5 Institute for Collaborative Bioresearch at the UA.
The Florida-based Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Foundation® will donate $5 million over five years to create the Institute, with the UA raising matching funds. The Technology Research Infrastructure Fund (TRIF), Arizona Alzheimer's Research Center, the Arizona Research Laboratories, the UA Vice President for Research, and the UA Colleges of Medicine and Social and Behavioral Sciences have made commitments to the match.
The first $1 million of the grant established the Evelyn F. McKnight Endowed Chair for Learning and Memory in Aging at the ARL Division of Neural Systems, Memory and Aging which Dr. Barnes will occupy.
"Dr. Barnes is one of the nation's most distinguished researchers on cognitive changes during normal aging, and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation sought her out to lead the establishment of this new research institute at the UA," says Leslie P. Tolbert, PhD, UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development and Regents Professor of neurobiology. "This generous support from the McKnight Brain Research Foundation will enhance the ability of a strong, collaborative group of investigators assembled by Dr. Barnes to pursue innovative research at the cutting edge of an important field. They will 'push the envelope' of our understanding of the biology of age-related cognitive decline and will work to take their research findings to practical application. We are thrilled that the McKnight Brain Research Foundation chose Dr. Barnes for this honor."
Dr. Barnes is immediate past president of the Society for Neurosciences, which is the world's largest organization of scientists devoted to the study of the brain with more than 37,500 members. A faculty member at the UA since 1990, Dr. Barnes' research focuses on understanding how brain changes during normal aging affect information processing and memory, as a backdrop for understanding and diagnosing age-related neurodegenerative diseases. She also assesses therapies that may alleviate or delay the neural and cognitive changes that occur during the normal aging process. In addition, Dr. Barnes teaches a course in gerontology which covers the biological, psychological and sociological aspects of aging. Dr. Barnes and her team of research scientists at the UA McKnight Brain Institute will study brain function during the normal aging process at the molecular and cellular levels, and translate basic biomedical research discoveries into processes and products that will reduce the adverse effects of aging on human learning and memory.
The Institute will enhance the UA's already-established research in aging, as well as encourage new investigations in this field by supporting pilot research projects, educational symposia, seminars and conferences. The Institute's Board of Directors includes investigators throughout the UA campus who will establish collaborations among themselves and with investigators at other institutions, including the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida in Gainesville; the Evelyn F. McKnight Center for Age-Related Memory Loss at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Fla.; and the Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
The Evelyn F. McKnight Brain Research Foundation® was created in 1999 to promote research and investigation of the mechanisms of the brain that underlie the neurobiology of memory, with clinical relevance to the problems of age-related memory loss. Evelyn McKnight, who was a nurse, and her husband, William, were interested in the effects of aging on memory. William McKnight was chairman of the board of the 3M Corp. for 59 years before his death in 1979. Evelyn continued to support his interest in brain research and memory loss until her death in 1999. Now her legacy continues their commitment through the establishment of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation®.