$6 million gift will propel research at Alzheimer’s center

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$6 million gift will propel research at Alzheimer’s center

Couple hopes investment in unique UW project will speed drug-discovery pipeline
Delia Ward

“Alzheimer’s is driven by genetics, but it isn’t just one disease,” said Dr. Thomas Montine, chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Pathology. “It’s a disease that has many different subtypes, and one treatment won’t work for everyone.”

A severe, progressive degenerative condition that leads to dementia, Alzheimer’s affects millions of people in the United States. At present there is no cure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, unless new treatments emerge, approximately 13.8 million U.S. residents will live with Alzheimer’s-related dementia by 2050. 


Alzheimers-Grabowski-Ellison
Clare McLean
Dr. Thomas Grabowski, gesturing, and Tom Ellison at the University of Washington Integrated Brain Imaging Center. (Click to enlarge.)
Dr. Thomas Grabowski, gesturing, and Tom Ellison at the University of Washington Integrated Brain Imaging Center.

With a $6 million investment from the Ellison Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the UW will begin a project unique in the United States, one that could revolutionize care for Alzheimer’s.

The key is precision medicine, the next wave in medical care, in which a patient is assessed genetically and in other ways for the treatments that will work best for their individual condition.

“The goal is to create multiple treatments and see which ones work best for each patient,” said Montine, who will direct the center.

Sue and Tom Ellison are eager to help advance care. “We have Alzheimer’s in our family, so the issue is quite personal,” Sue Ellison said. “But it’s also a huge public health issue, and we need to make progress on it.”

Montine suggested that no other Alzheimer’s-focused center possesses the three elements UW Medicine brings to the table: research expertise in the disease’s genetics, expertise in the disease’s biomarkers, and a precision-medicine approach to clinical trials. 


Montine, Ellison, Grabowski at IBIC
Clare McLean
Tom Ellison is flanked by UW Medicine physicians Thomas Montine, left, and Thomas Grabowski. (Click to enlarge.)
Tom Ellison is flanked by UW Medicine physicians Thomas Montine, left, and Thomas Grabowski.

With the Ellison Foundation’s gift — $6 million out of a project totaling $20 million — UW Medicine intends to:

  • Use exome sequencing to identify Alzheimer’s risk. Exome sequencing is a focused type of gene sequencing. Testing will help determine a patient’s risk of acquiring the disease.
  • Test more drugs, faster. Researchers will use patient-derived stem cells to test potential Alzheimer’s-defeating drugs at the Quellos High-throughput Screening Core, a facility that allows fast and efficient testing.
  • Recruit a leader. UW Medicine will recruit a senior scientist to lead the clinical trials team, the group that will eventually test drugs in human volunteers.
  • Find Alzheimer’s earlier. The gift also will help test the efficacy of an imaging tool called fMRI in detecting physiological changes in the brain — ones that may warn of impending Alzheimer’s — before dementia develops.

“When we know more about the genetics behind Alzheimer’s disease, and more about the drugs that may work on our patients, we’ll be able to move on to our second phase: drug testing in clinical trials,” said Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine. “And the impact will be global.”