George and Cynthia Mitchell and their children have founded a new $2.5 million center at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston devoted to eradicating Alzheimer’s disease and related brain disorders.
The George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Brain Disorders marked its opening with a Sept. 15 symposium, “Alzheimer’s Disease Therapy: In Quest of Hope,” featuring five of the country’s top Alzheimer’s experts. The center is supported by The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation. The event was jointly hosted by Dan Wolterman, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Hermann, and Larry R. Kaiser, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.
“These researchers are on the front line of testing treatments on patients,” said Claudio Soto, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the UT Medical School at Houston and director of the Mitchell Center. “They have all the inside information on what is happening. Some of the medications they are testing could be the next drug of choice for Alzheimer’s treatment.”
Presenters included Soto, who organized the event; Rachelle Doody, M.D., Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine; Paul Aisen, M.D., University of California, San Diego; Norman Relkin, M.D., Ph.D., Weill Medical College, Cornell University; and Sam Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Each spoke about the latest strategies in treating the disease as well as new research into the causes and possible cures for the devastating disease. Attendees learned about discoveries from the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Studies, treatments involving natural human antibodies and recent drug developments.
Collaboration is key
Just as the symposium brought together clinicians and scientists from across the country, the new center will seek collaborations with leading experts in the field of neurodegenerative disease, Soto said.
“By having the Mitchell Center in the Texas Medical Center, we can bring together people who are now working in the clinical area, diagnostics, basic science and imaging,” said Soto, whose research involving brain disorders and protein misfolding is funded with several grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling almost $3 million annually. “We will put all our minds together to understand the disease mechanisms and develop novel treatments, faster means to diagnosis these diseases and eventually eliminate Alzheimer’s and other related brain disorders.”
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, fatal brain disorder that destroys brain cells and leads to problems with memory, thinking and behavior. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as many as 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease today, a number that is expected to increase substantially in years to come.
‘Dying is not the bad thing; the loss of memory is’
Oilman, developer and Galveston historic preservationist George Mitchell and the foundation have also supported Alzheimer’s disease research at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), Baylor College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University.
“I became interested in Alzheimer’s because Cynthia has it now. In the beginning, we hoped we would find something for her. Alzheimer’s is such a terrible disease. We don’t have enough treatment help,” Mitchell said. “The most critical issue is to stop the dementia. Dying is not the bad thing; the loss of memory is. If we could get a test for it and get enough drugs in the pipeline to stop the dementia, it would be a huge breakthrough.”
Soto also emphasizes the need to find a faster way to diagnosis the disease before symptoms occur.
“We’re trying to find it before the brain damage, so that with good treatment, we could prevent or delay the disease process,” Soto said. “I really believe that’s reachable in 10 years. We need to understand the basic disease process and translate that into novel approaches for treatment and diagnostics.”
‘Always helping people’
From 2001 through 2010 pledges, The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation has donated $18 million for Alzheimer’s disease research and treatment, said Meredith Mitchell Dreiss, president and treasurer of The Woodlands-based foundation and a research fellow at the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin.
“My parents didn’t use the word ‘philanthropy’ ever but they were always helping people. We children were taught to help. We grew up feeling that’s the way you were and we have communicated that to our children,” said Dreiss of her family’s strong heritage of giving. “I hope developing this center will lead to better collaborations in the future with other institutions including Baylor and UTMB. Let’s solve Alzheimer’s disease.”
Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz also is passionate about finding ways to diagnosis the disease in its early stages and prevent or significantly delay its onset.
“We became very interested in Alzheimer’s disease research from our personal experience. As a family we have seen the impact on my mother, and we have felt the loss of the mother we knew, a brilliant and vibrant woman who should have had many wonderful memories of a full and productive life,” said Lorenz, president of G-1 Corporation, an affiliate of Mitchell Historic Properties. “Clearly, more research in Alzheimer’s disease is needed, not only because of the emotional and financial toll it takes on families, but also because of the enormous burden the disease will have on society as the current population ages. More research is needed to investigate causes, prevention, early diagnosis and clinical care.
George Mitchell is hopeful. “I think in 10 years we will find ways to stop the dementia and diagnose people 10 years in advance of the disease,” he said.
The symposium was the first of what Soto hopes becomes an annual event to share information among researchers and educate the public about the disease.