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By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer
By Patricia Daddona
PBN Staff Writer
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Using a $15 million gift from a prominent alumnus whose father suffered from a stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, the University of Rhode Island is establishing a neuroscience research institute.
The George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at URI will be dedicated to research in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative and neurological diseases, URI President David M. Dooley told the Providence Business News.
Donated by Thomas M. Ryan, a 1975 university graduate and former chairman, president and CEO of CVS Caremark, and his wife, Cathy, the couple’s gift will help launch the institute within the coming year and enable a focus on pioneering research in the field. The institute is named after Ryan’s parents and constitutes the largest private gift in the university’s history, Dooley said.
The funds will be used to set up and run an independent university research institute dedicated to integrated and interdisciplinary research targeting such illnesses and conditions as Alzheimers, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and stroke, Dooley said.
“On a personal level,” Ryan said in a prepared statement, explaining his motivation, “my dad retired at a young age, was extremely healthy, rock-solid, kind of bigger than life guy – and he had a stroke and then subsequent Alzheimer’s. I saw what it did to him, what it did to my mother, and our family. The economic costs are one thing, but the personal, emotional costs are another. It steals memories. It saddles caregivers.”
Ryan said he also lost colleagues at CVS to the ravages of ALS.
The funds will be used not only for startup costs and research but also to fund an endowment to keep the institute going, Dooley said. Once the gift is received in the first quarter of 2014, a director for the institute will be hired within the year, he said, and the director will be able to hire three faculty members.
The URI already has research strengths in pharmacology and drug discovery, neuroengineering and neuropsychology, as well as a graduate-level interdisciplinary neuroscience program, Dooley said.
Setting up the Ryan Institute “means a lot to all of us here because this is the kind of transformational gift that enables the University of Rhode Island to take a leadership position in a critically important area,” Dooley said.
The Ryan Institute will also work cooperatively with other institutions in the state, including the neuroscience program at Brown University, the basic research programs at the Brown Institute for Brain Science, the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute at Rhode Island Hospital and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Seeking new treatments and therapies for disorders of the nervous system are among the top priorities of several federal funding agencies. This year, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy named its first coordinator of neuroscience research and President Barack Obama’s administration unveiled a $100 million brain-mapping initiative.
In a prepared statement, Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee said the institute will not only help ease the suffering of people around the globe but also “contribute significantly to economic development in Rhode Island by creating a vibrant environment for the expansion of basic biomedical research and clinical practice in neuroscience.”
Ryan noted, “If we do it right and we work together and we increase research dollars, get more faculty, more money in the state, find some cures, some breakthroughs, the economic development will follow. But we’re not doing this for economic development; we’re doing this to try to solve a major problem in this country. And if we do that and do it better than anybody else, we will become the center of excellence, and I think that’s the ultimate goal.”
Ryan is also the namesake of the $54 million Ryan Center athletics and entertainment arena at the university, a project he supported as fundraising campaign co-chair during its construction more than a decade ago.