What are the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias? Can we identify novel targets or strategies for possible therapeutic intervention? Scientists of UC Santa Barbara’s Neuroscience Research Institute have made inroads toward answering these questions within their broader work on the human mind and nervous system. Alzheimer’s disease research at UC Santa Barbara has received generous support from philanthropists dedicated to finding a cure. The John Douglas French Alzheimer’s Foundation (JDFAF), with supporters who have risen to the challenge of their matching gift, have made a visionary investment in the work of neuroscientist Kenneth S. Kosik.
The Kosik Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology Lab leads inquiry into neural plasticity, the evolution of synapses, and disease-related impairments of plasticity that occur in Alzheimer’s disease. Central to the lab’s Alzheimer’s research is the study of tau, a key protein in the proper function of neurons. Tau is found in the neurofibrillary tangles that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Kosik’s research team and collaborators have uncovered various mechanisms and agents implicated in the development of pathological tau and tested several molecules with the potential for disrupting the process.
Years before becoming a UC Santa Barbara Foundation trustee in 2013, Karen Bedrosian Coyne ’91 first learned of the Kosik Lab’s research through her involvement with JDFAF. From 2009 to 2017, Karen served as president of The Founding Associates, a group that spent decades raising money for the research funded by JDFAF. Karen invited Dr. Kosik to speak to this group.
“The interconnection and synergy between Ken’s research and the research being done on other campuses made it obvious that UC Santa Barbara should be part of the collaborative strategic initiative that JDFAF accomplished through establishing endowed funding of ten professors at California universities,” said Karen. “Nurturing the relationship between UC Santa Barbara and JDFAF was an obvious priority, as both organizations would benefit from the relationship and ultimately help to advance Alzheimer’s research.”
JDFAF supports the most promising scientists studying Alzheimer’s disease at the top California universities, fostering communication and collaboration among their labs to accelerate and discover treatments and potential cures for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative diseases. The foundation has established permanent endowments for ten professors at UCSF, UCLA, USC, and UC Santa Barbara. Through this strategy, JDFAF has created a consortium of neuroscientists working together to unravel the causes leading to Alzheimer’s disease.
“We specifically wanted to target Dr. Kosik’s research program because we had an established relationship,” said Dr. Cheryl Craft, JDFAF president. “When the foundation created this strategic initiative to focus and to expand our giving to support Alzheimer’s research, we visited Dr. Kosik’s research lab and neuroscientists that he worked with at UC Santa Barbara. The JDFAF board members were impressed with the depth and breadth of the faculty and the students that worked with Dr. Kosik. It’s a match made in heaven.”
“Impactful philanthropic support in the area of Alzheimer’s research allows our scholars to take an accelerated approach, attacking the problem of neurodegenerative diseases from all angles,” said Pierre Wiltzius, executive dean of the College of Letters and Science and Susan & Bruce Worster Dean of Science. “Our interdisciplinary, collaborative model studies the full spectrum of these diseases, from the molecular level all the way up to drug discovery. As a result of this visionary approach, our team of scientists has made great strides that simply would not be possible without the generous support of our donors.”
JDFAF understands how private philanthropy creates opportunities for researchers to develop novel approaches that might not be supported by the National Institute of Aging, the National Institutes of Health, or other federal entities. By structuring their support for UC Santa Barbara as a matching opportunity, JDFAF has energized philanthropists around Alzheimer’s research on campus.
As part of their passion for genealogy, UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee Jan Alpert ’68 and her husband, Cal Beltman, both took 23andMe DNA tests. Cal’s results disclosed that he carried the APOE4 gene, which can be a risk factor of Alzheimer’s. While Cal has no signs of the disease, the test result spurred Jan and Cal to be proactive about Alzheimer’s research and philanthropy.
“Today, more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Jan. “As we baby boomers age, the incidence is expected to more than double by 2050 if a cure is not discovered. For reasons not yet known, women over 65 have two-thirds of the Alzheimer’s cases. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. and the only disease in the top 10 without a cure or a successful disease-modifying treatment. If you are interested in advancing Alzheimer’s research, we hope you might consider joining us in support of the unique role UC Santa Barbara plays.”
Finding a cure for Alzheimer’s requires creativity and collaboration, two qualities abundant in UC Santa Barbara scientists. By supporting renowned faculty and their brilliant researchers, philanthropists help UC Santa Barbara add to the sum of human knowledge.
“The quest for the elimination of Alzheimer’s disease requires a long-term commitment to the problem,” said Dr. Kosik. “The cure must come with a deep understanding of the foundational science that lies entangled in a multidisciplinary web of genetics and cell biology and the particularly elusive process of aging itself. Only steady and secure support of the research will chip away and eventually solve the disease.”