Gift from William and Sheila Konar Supports Clinical Research on Alzheimer’s Disease

Feb. 7, 2010
Anton P. Porsteinsson, M.D.

Clinical research into Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that cause dementia has taken a giant leap forward at the University of Rochester Medical Center, with a major gift from a local couple that has long supported the University.

A $1.5 million gift from William B. and Sheila Konar has created a new endowed professorship to support clinical research into new ways to treat or prevent diseases of the brain that affect memory, thinking, behavior and mood. The Konar endowment is believed to be the largest gift devoted to supporting clinical research into Alzheimer’s disease that the University has received.

The gift supports a program already recognized nationally as among the top Alzheimer’s clinical research programs in the nation.

“This gift from Bill and Sheila Konar is a game changer for us, just huge. It can’t be over-stated,” said Anton P. Porsteinsson, M.D., who is the first William B. and Sheila Konar Professor. “Their generous support gives our clinical research effort on dementia a very firm foundation and ensures that Rochester will continue to play a pivotal role in the search for new treatments for years to come.”

The gift comes from two individuals who have been steadfast supporters of the University of Rochester for more than three decades, as well as long-time supporters of efforts related to Alzheimer’s disease. Sheila Konar is a member of the board of directors of the Rochester-area chapter of the Alzheimer’s Assn.

“We’ve been so impressed by Dr. Porsteinsson – not only does he treat his patients effectively, he does so with the utmost respect, and he is one of the nation’s top researchers seeking better treatments for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Sheila Konar. “We wanted to do all we could to support his program.”

The new support benefits the University of Rochester Alzheimer’s Disease Care, Research and Education Program (AD-CARE) and its Memory Disorders Clinic, which are led by Porsteinsson. He has devoted his career to the care and study of individuals with memory disorders. Internationally recognized in clinical research, his interests lie in biomarkers, imaging, and novel medications in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, for the treatment of both cognitive loss and behavioral disturbances.

“We are immensely grateful for this gift, the most recent in a long history of support for our programs by William and Sheila Konar,” said URMC Acting CEO Mark B. Taubman, M.D. “In light of the sheer number of people with Alzheimer’s disease or a related condition, this is a gift that will make a difference in the lives of many, many Rochester families.”

Since 1986, AD-CARE physicians and their patients have taken part in virtually every large study of a potential Alzheimer’s medication. Their work has spanned a time when there were no medications approved to treat the disease, to today when an array of drugs is available to help fight symptoms such as memory loss.

More than 2,000 patients with dementia who live in western New York are treated on an ongoing basis by Porsteinsson’s group. Rochester is one of the top participating sites in the nation in the Alzheimer’s Disease Cooperative Study group, a collaboration of scientists nationwide who work together to test new treatments for the disease. Overall more than 1,500 people from the Rochester area have taken part in 150 studies through the AD-CARE program, which is currently conducting 15 studies of potential new treatments for dementia.

Currently several Rochester patients are taking part in studies of a new type of drug known as a mitochondrial pore stabilizer. Doctors will learn the results of those studies within the next few months; if the drug is effective and approved, it would offer a whole new approach to treating dementia, again signaling the difference that Rochester research can play in treatment of patients nationwide.

“There is so much more we can do for patients today than we could 20 or 30 years ago, and this is made possible largely by the type of clinical research supported by Bill and Sheila,” said Porsteinsson, who is professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “It is our hope to continue treating Alzheimer’s disease more and more effectively, and to someday prevent the disease outright.”