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Goizueta Foundation makes transformational grant to Emory Brain Health

Allan Levey Dr. Allan Levey in his office at Emory. (Photo by Maria Saporta.)

By Maria Saporta

The Goizueta Foundation has made a $50 million grant to establish the Goizueta Institute @ Emory Brain Health. The grant renames the Emory Brain Health Personalized Medicine Institute, announced in May, which will take on the Goizueta name.

Led by Emory’s world-class brain health clinical and research teams, the Goizueta Institute @ Emory Brain Health will leverage the power of large-scale data collection and analysis with patients and the health care community to predict, prevent, diagnose and treat brain disease.

“Emory has been a leader in the development of science and technology for the prevention and treatment of brain disease,” said Olga Goizueta Rawls, the Goizueta Foundation’s board chair and CEO, in a statement. “The Goizueta Foundation is proud to help bring these innovations into clinical practice to promote healthy aging.”

Dr. Allen Levey

In a pre-taped video message, Emory President Gregory L. Fenves announced the Goizueta grant and the renaming of the Institute at the fundraising dinner — A Family Affair — on Thursday evening.

“The Goizueta Institute @ Emory Brain Health is where decades of research have been leading and the future has arrived,” Fenves said. “Neurodegenerative diseases that have long been viewed as hopeless, will now be approached in a personalized way with a focus on sooner, smarter care.”

It is the first major gift Emory University has received since its $4 billion fundraising campaign went public in October. During the silent phase, Emory has raised more than $2.6 billion towards the multi-year and university-wide campaign.

The $50 million grant to rename the Institute builds upon previous donations the Goizueta Foundation has made to Emory’s brain health initiatives.

Over the last decade, philanthropic support from the Goizueta Foundation has been central to developing the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Emory Brain Health Center into globally-recognized leaders.

In total, the Goizueta Foundation has made $54 million in previous grants to support Emory’s brain health research. The foundation was created in honor of Roberto C. Goizueta, the legendary CEO of the Coca-Cola Co. from 1980 to 1997.

“The Goizueta Foundation has now committed over $100 million to us,” said Allan Levey, founding director of the Goizueta Institute @ Emory Brain Health, in an interview. “It absolutely blows my mind.”

Levey added that he hopes to be able to raise another $200 million to $300 million to support the discovery and research on new approaches to treating people with brain-related diseases.

The Goizueta Institute @ Emory Brain Health is discovering and accelerating ways to create personalized treatment strategies and explore preventive medicines for the treatment of brain diseases.

“The brain has been the most mysterious and complex organ in the human body,” Levey said. “The diseases we are embracing are the major neurological and psychiatric disorders — Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, epilepsy, stroke and depression. These diseases have traditionally been taken on one at a time in a siloed approach. The reality is these brain diseases are far more linked, and a lot of them have common issues. The opportunity to break down the silos is in the [early] detection of these diseases.”

Goizueta Foundation board

The board of the Goizueta Foundation: Olga Goizueta is survived by three children: son Javier, left, daughter Olga and son Roberto.
(Photo by Greg Scott for the Goizueta Foundation.)

The Goizueta grant will provide foundational support to increase the understanding of the biological, medical and lifestyle factors that impact brain health and disease. It will promote new research approaches to improve patient care and ultimately prevent common brain diseases.

By using “big data,” Levey said researchers can now study the root causes of brain diseases and strive to prevent these diseases in the future.

“We are trying to collect information from the primary care doctor,” said Levey, comparing it to blood pressure tests that seek to treat patients before they have heart attacks or strokes. “We don’t do that for the major symptoms of brain disease. Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are well established 20-plus years before people develop symptoms. We are trying to prevent these diseases in the future.”

Levey and his colleagues have been doing in-depth research on Alzheimer’s in a study called the Emory Healthy Brain Study, which the Goizueta Foundation supported in its early stages. It is now being funded with a $37 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It has been following 1,500 patients, and it will soon incorporate 3,000 people. The research takes spinal fluids, and it can identify people at risk years before they develop symptoms.

“That focuses primarily on Alzheimer’s disease,” Levey said. “This new Goizueta Institute allows us to broaden our approach to study other brain diseases.”

Levey added that the Institute also is working with several companies that may soon partner with the Institute in a variety of ways, including conducting genetic testing to properly diagnose the diseases and the optimal treatment.

As he sees it, the Goizueta Foundation gift is a seed that will grow and spawn significant breakthroughs in the future.

“They have been deeply committed as a family to our mission,” Levey said. “They share our passion of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s and other related diseases.”

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Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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