October 22, 2014

Realignment for Alzheimer Research

Art Levy | 10/1/2008

Byrd Institute
Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute at USF
From its inception, the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute carried heavy political baggage. The center was ramrodded into existence by former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd Jr. in 2004 amid questions about whether an independent Alzheimer’s institute was even needed, given the fact that it would be on the campus of the University of South Florida, where big-time Alzheimer’s research was already under way.

Nevertheless, the institute quickly established itself as a major player, beating out Duke University, Johns Hopkins University and other top Alzheimer’s research facilities in 2005 for a five-year, $7.5-million grant from the Disease Research Center. The institute has since developed a lengthy list of promising research projects, including one that found caffeine intake reduces the risk of Alz-heimer’s disease in mice.

While the institute received $15 million in state funding in each of the past three years, the Legislature voted to drop funding for 2009 in the wake of Florida’s budget crisis. As a result, the institute’s board, including Johnnie Byrd Jr. himself, voted in August to allow USF to take over the institute. Medical school dean Stephen Klasko takes over as CEO from Huntington Potter.

Stephen Klasko
Combining the USF and Byrd Alzheimer’s institutes will create a “top three to five” facility, says Stephen Klasko, the Byrd center’s new CEO.
Klasko says the move was inevitable. It was a state-funded facility “that lost its state funding.” He says combining USF’s and Byrd’s research and researchers will eventually result in one of the nation’s “top three to five” Alzheimer’s research facilities. “You’re bringing together two great institutions that geographically were just 30 feet apart,” he says.

Potter, who joined the institute after a 30-year career at Harvard, will remain a member of the institute’s scientific staff. He doesn’t sugarcoat his change in status. He didn’t lose the CEO’s title, he says, because he “wanted to spend more time in the lab.” But he thinks the institute will continue to make progress on finding an Alzheimer’s cure. “There is good will all around to make the institute work in this new form,” he says.

Tags: Southwest, Healthcare

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