$10 Million Gift to Transform Neuromedicine at URMC

May 13, 2009

Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute

A multi-million dollar gift from one of Rochester’s hometown entrepreneurs promises to launch the University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) neuromedicine program into a nationally recognized, comprehensive center for investigating and treating neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, stroke, and trauma to the brain and spinal cord.

Ernest J. Del Monte, chairman of E.J. Del Monte Corporation, a Rochester-based company that owns and operates 17 hotels in New York State, chose to make the gift with his wife, Thelma, after getting to know neuromedicine leaders at the Medical Center. He’s impressed that scientific studies in Rochester are providing critical insight into neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, brain tumors and injuries to the brain and spinal cord, all of which are rapidly becoming more prevalent.

At a URMC news conference today, Del Monte, who also is life trustee of the University of Rochester, said that his family’s $10 million gift is the first installment toward what he hopes will amount to a $20 million commitment to the Institute over time. At $10 million, the Del Monte contribution is the second largest gift in the history of the Medical Center.

Ernest J. Del Monte

“Neuromedicine is one of the most promising endeavors that the University has undertaken,” Del Monte said. “We have all the necessary ingredients to be successful internationally. My hope is that this gift will be the force to help scientists and clinicians collaborate seamlessly so that one day, from this Institute, the cure for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and other neurological disorders will emerge. I truly believe we can do it.”

“The University of Rochester is deeply indebted to Mr. Del Monte for his extraordinary generosity,” said University President Joel Seligman. “Ernie and Thelma’s gift is potentially transformative. The Medical Center has long been among the nation’s leaders in neuroscience, but this gift will allow us to amplify our federal research funding, teaching, and clinical programs for those suffering from some of today’s most debilitating illnesses, conditions that will afflict even more of us in the decades to come.”

A Unifying Force

Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc.

The Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute will serve as an umbrella for a host of vibrant research centers and growing clinical care programs throughout the Medical Center and River Campus. The gift will allow the Medical Center to create an Institute with new research space and branding that unifies some of its most productive science, in a field that is central to its new strategic plan. It will also galvanize physicians across the region who treat patients with neurological conditions.

“The Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute will foster collaboration among researchers, and between scientists and physicians, closing the gap between what we know and what we practice,” said URMC CEO Bradford C. Berk, M.D., Ph.D. “With the Del Montes’ gift, URMC can create an environment that maximizes our current strengths and attracts other leaders in the field of neuromedicine to Rochester.”

The Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute will focus initially on four major programs already well-established at the Medical Center: Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, spinal cord and brain injuries, and brain tumors. For example, soon, patients with Alzheimer’s will experience a more streamlined and coordinated care plan in Rochester, as physicians and others from different disciplines pool their resources to offer the latest diagnostic equipment, early intervention programs, access to clinical trials, and even family support group programs.

Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D.

Heralding the Gift

Since the Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute will focus primarily on bringing laboratory breakthroughs to everyday patient care, neuroscientists working in translational medicine will be relocated together into the current Medical Research Building Extension (MRBX). The gift will fund the renovation of the building’s ground floor into 25,000 square-feet of new laboratories to accommodate growing numbers of neuroscientists. The building will be renamed the Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute in recognition of the gift.

Eventually, all four floors in the 200,000-square-foot facility may house a large portion of the basic science, teaching and translational research neuromedicine programs.

Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D.

“The Del Montes’ generosity gives us the capital to complete this building in the way in which it was always envisioned: four full floors of laboratory space,” said David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “It also allows us to christen this building with a name that reflects the significance of the work that’s done inside.”

Tackling Tomorrow’s Disease Killers Today

According to a comprehensive review conducted by the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the numbers of patients suffering strokes or being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease are rising as the population ages and diagnostic techniques improve. It is estimated that cases of Alzheimer’s disease will quadruple by 2050, which will make it the leading cause of death, eclipsing cardiac disease and cancer. Stroke, which kills nearly 150,000 people a year, is currently the third leading cause of death, and the leading cause of disability in the U.S. By the year 2050, there will be one million cases of stroke—a 167% increase in men and a 140% increase in women.

“In the last few decades, we’ve made real progress in the treatment of heart disease and cancer,” said Webster Pilcher, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurosurgery chair and director of the Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute. “Yet the incidence of neurological diseases and conditions continues to rise, killing or disabling more and more patients. The Del Montes’ gift positions URMC at the forefront of our battle against diseases that rob individuals of their health, independence, and dignity. I cannot thank Ernie and Thelma enough.”

Rochester as a Driving Force in Neuromedicine

Rochester’s contributions in the field of neuromedicine research have improved patient health, enhanced physician training, and spurred new thinking on a number of research fronts. Last year, URMC ranked sixth among the research institutes in NIH funding for neuromedicine studies. In URMC laboratories, hundreds of neuroscientists have opened up new avenues of possible treatment for conditions like muscular dystrophy and Alzheimer’s disease and stroke, and they lead several worldwide efforts to find better treatments for people with Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease.

But URMC neuromedicine physicians and researchers are also making a difference in Rochester, actively developing a community-wide approach to neuromedicine clinical programs. Today, Medical Center neurologists manage care at three of the city’s hospitals and its neurosurgeons work out of all four of Rochester’s hospitals, ensuring that all residents have consistent access to the highest standards of care and technology. The group is also working with all of the area’s health systems to develop a consistent triage and treatment approach community-wide for stroke patients in an effort to decrease disability and save even more lives.

“The Institute will enhance an already strong education program in neuromedicine and help attract the best and brightest physicians and scientists to our community,” Pilcher said. During the last decade, three times as many University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry graduates have chosen to pursue careers in neuromedicine than in other schools. For the last eight years, all residents pursuing adult neurology at the University passed national certifying exams on the first try, compared to an 85% national pass rate. URMC is also one of three recipients of an NIH training grant that teaches resident physicians to translate lab discoveries into new therapies for brain diseases.

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Germaine Reinhardt
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