UCSF just received its largest, individual financial gift ever - a donation of $185 million dedicated to neurosciences.
The donation was made by Sanford Weill, the former CEO of Citigroup, and his wife, Joan. Weill says the gift is partly inspired by his father’s lifelong struggle with depression, and his mother's battle with Alzheimer's disease.
“For the last 15 years of her life she was in an institution where she didn’t say a word,” says Weill. “She had no expression as it related to anything. So, that person who looked like my mother was really not my mother. This is a horrible disease!”
Weill hopes the downward spiral he witnessed with his mother's demise may someday be prevented through therapeutic advances discovered at UCSF.
Joan Weill nods her head in agreement. Tears fill her eyes as she remembers a dear family friend who recently committed suicide.
“It was such a tragedy,” She explains with a quivering voice. “This man suffered from depression his whole life. So, mental illness definitely strikes a very personal chord in both of us.”
The money will fund a new 270-thousand square foot facility in Mission Bay.
"The Weill institute will bring together the traditional disciplines of neurology, psychiatry, neurosurgery and basic neurosciences to make advances in a faster way than was possible earlier," explains neurologist Steve Hauser, the institute’s new director.
The hope is that UCSF faculty will work across disciplines, and share their research with each other more often if they work in the same place. Currently, neurological departments are spread across different campuses.
In addition to 45 new research labs, the new institute will house clinics that will provide care to patients with diseases including:
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); and Huntington’s disease.
Movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and dystonia.
Chronic pain and migraines.
Paralysis caused by stroke or injury.
Weill says it's crucial to prioritize neurological research to lower health care costs.
“If we don’t make breakthroughs in Alzheimer's, MS, autism and all the neuro-degenerative diseases it's going to be trillions and trillions of dollars,” says Weill. “And, that’s not a good thing. Nor is the quality of life (for these patients) that’s available today.”
The philanthropic couple, who split time between their homes in Sonoma County and New York City, is dedicated to staying intellectually engaged and mentally stimulated as they move into their elder years. The couple will soon celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary.
“We've got to keep our minds working so that we can continue to relate to each other,” says Weill.
“And, so we know who each other are!” laughs Joan Weill.
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