SCIENTIFIC METHOD: University of Rhode Island professor and Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program Director Nassar Zawia works with a student.
COURTESY URI/GIBLIN & CO. PHOTOGRAPHY
By Patricia Daddona PBN Staff Writer
Rhode Island health and science leaders are heralding a new neuroscience research institute at the University of Rhode Island as a way to further collaborate in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
The founding of the George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience on Nov. 14 reflects the vision of Thomas M. Ryan, the URI alumnus and former chairman, president and CEO of CVS Caremark Corp., and his wife, Cathy, who donated $15 million to the university to launch it.
Ryan, whose late father, George, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, strongly believes that sharing research discoveries is necessary to generate treatments and cures – not only for Alzheimer’s, but for Parkinson’s, stroke, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) and other illnesses.
It’s a conviction shared by URI officials and leaders at institutions that have already delved into similar areas – the Brown Institute for Brain Science, the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute, and Lifespan and Rhode Island Hospital.
“All the neurodegenerative diseases are just traumatic for the families,” Ryan said, days after the fanfare of the formal announcement at the university had subsided.
“My belief is, the only way we’re going to get meaningful breakthrough is if we share our results, communicate and – it’s really selflessness – find a cure,” said Ryan. “This is not about who owns the data. In the early days of researching, they were keeping this stuff close to the vest. That’s not happening now. If we want really meaningful and not incremental breakthroughs, we need to work together.”
Experienced Rhode Island researchers already engaged in evolving areas of discovery are eager to share in the prospect of cross-cutting scientific investigation and alliances that Ryan envisions.
“It’s really exciting to see that Tom Ryan and URI are interested in investing in neuroscience and understanding the brain,” said R. John Davenport, associate director of the Brain Science institute and an adjunct professor of neuroscience at Brown University. “Dealing with disorders and diseases that affect the nervous system is a massive problem. We’re at the very beginning of understanding these disorders. So, there’s a huge need and room for more scientists to get involved.”