New Alzheimer’s center may be part of master plan

The Board of Trustees will vote on Thursday on whether to add an Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute to USF’s Tampa Campus Master Plan. The proposal comes nearly a year after House Speaker Johnnie Byrd requested a $45-million Alzheimer’s Center be built at USF, construction that was postponed by Gov. Jeb Bush because of significant budget cuts.

The Florida Legislature approved $20 million to fund the building and $5 million for operations, according to Lilly Ho-pehling, chief financial officer of the Florida Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute.

The funding was provided last year, and, Ho-pehling said, construction for the Center is expected to begin in November or December.

The Center will be located on the northern part of campus, south of Fletcher and east of USF Health Sciences. The 2.53-acre location is being sub-leased for $1, said Michelle Carlyon, USF media relations representative.

Ho-pehling said Florida attorney general Charlie Christ added $2.2 million for the Center, but more money will be needed this fiscal year in order to complete construction and create a database between 13 memory disorder centers in Florida.

Last year, Byrd made the Alzheimer’s Center a top priority, but with higher education undergoing a $40-million budget cut, Bush said funding would have to wait until 2004.

Senate President Jim King told local media during Byrd’s push for the Center that it was a pork barrel project the state couldn’t afford.

USF has an Alzheimer’s Disease Research Lab and a Suncoast Gerontology Center, but Ho-pehling said having the Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute will allow for collaborative studies.

“We consider (USF) a wonderful place for location, due to the metropolitan area with the aging population,” Ho-pehling said. “It’s a state entity that will collaborate with the university.”

There are about 420,000 Alzheimer’s patients in Florida, according to Ho-pehling.

“It’s a number that’s exponentially growing … and it’s costing the state about $10 billion,” Ho-pehling said.

Dr. Amanda Smith, an assistant professor of geriatrics psychiatry, said the Alzheimer’s Center will create more research opportunities at USF and for the Suncoast Gerontology Center.

“We think it will provide a lot of opportunities for collaboration to enhance our research mechanisms,” Smith said.

Because the Gerontology Center conducts clinical research such as drug trials with Alzheimer’s patients, Smith said the basic science studies administered in lab research would allow both centers to collaborate in assisting patients.

“The two would enhance one another because discoveries in the lab would be applied to the patient,” Smith said. “This will open new doors for opportunities so that hopefully we could find a cure (for Alzheimer’s) one day.”