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Transformational gift to McKnight Brain Institute launches 1:1 fundraising campaign By UA Foundation

Published: December 1st, 2014

Category: News

Since 2006 the McKnight Brain Research Foundation has committed nearly $11 million to the University of Arizona’s McKnight Brain Institute. Their gifts include ongoing funding for research and the establishment of an endowed chair. Now the Foundation has announced a transformational $5 million gift that challenges other philanthropists to get involved, too.

The Foundation will match gifts 1:1 until the establishment of at least a $10 million permanent endowment. As a whole, the funding will mark a major step forward in reaching the University’s $1.5 billion Arizona NOW campaign goal.

Now is the perfect time to support neuroscience, with public interest piquing and the White House recently launching a 10-year BRAIN Initiative that aims to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain. The generosity of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation and complementary public gifts will help enable the UA to play a prominent role in this emerging science.

Established in 1999, the McKnight Brain Research Foundation honors William L. and Evelyn F. McKnight’s interest in age-related memory loss. Evelyn was a nurse and William spent his career of 59 years with 3M Corp., where he served as president for 20 years and chairman of the board for 17 years. Today, the Florida-based Foundation supports research of the brain in aging, making key investments in top-tier research institutions, including the UA. The Foundation has specifically invested in the work of Dr. Carol Barnes, UA Regents’ Professor of psychology, neurology and neuroscience, and director of the McKnight Brain Institute. Dr. Barnes’ career as a scientist spans more than 30 years. She has already made enormous contributions leading to the understanding and alleviation of age-related memory loss.

Dr. Barnes says the McKnight gifts and matching endowment campaign will permanently sustain the Institute’s research, helping to purchase equipment and support the best and brightest graduate students: “I’m incredibly grateful,” she said, “as an endowment will fund our cognitive aging research into perpetuity.”

Drawn to the field after watching her grandfather struggle with memory loss, Barnes has taken the innovative approach of focusing on exactly how a normal brain ages. To establish one of only four institutes named after the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, she brought together researchers from the UA’s departments of molecular biology, neurology, psychology and medicine. They continue to collaborate with other scientists internationally.

“We cannot possibly understand what’s going wrong with the brain if we don’t understand what its normal looks like,” said Barnes of her research. “As we begin to understand aging in full depth, we can see what impacts it.”

Philanthropy will play a vital role in these efforts. Private funds can expand research programs and provide flexibility and creativity beyond the necessary constrains of federal funding. For example, decades-long longitudinal studies that track patients over time can’t be funded in typical three- to five-year cycles, but are exactly the type of efforts that will lead to breakthroughs in studies of aging.

But philanthropists aren’t the only ones investing in the science of the brain. University President Ann Weaver Hart’s Never Settle strategic plan recognizes neuroscience as a priority and an area of growth. The plan also calls for creative collaboration and new partnerships in research—the exact strategy already employed by Barnes and her colleagues.

“The McKnight Brain Research Institute gift will equip some of our most innovative scientists with the resources necessary to seek fresh approaches to an important field,” Hart said.

The scientific community is recognizing Dr. Barnes’ approach, as well. Last year she received the prestigious Society for Neuroscience’s Ralph W. Gerard Prize, and this year the American Psychological Association named her as a Distinguished Scientific Contribution award recipient.

The trustees of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation agree in issuing the following statement: “Dr. Barnes is an outstanding research scientist, and her interest is unique among neuroscientists. We are delighted to continue our long association with Carol and the University of Arizona as together we lead the way in medical research focused on the brain with the hope of preserving memory and enhancing life.”

More information about the McKnight Brain Institute and Dr. Barnes’ research is available online at embi.arizona.edu. Arizona NOW is online at arizonanow.org. To contribute to the McKnight Brain Research Foundation matching opportunity please contact the University of Arizona Foundation at 520-621-5590.

More information about the McKnight Brain Research Foundation can be found online at www.tmbrf.org.