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World-class Alzheimer’s center set to open soon

Anyone who’s driven down Fletcher Avenue has probably noticed the large, modern-looking glass building soon to be the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center and Research Institute. When completed, the center will be the world’s premier research center for Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Communications Liaison for the Byrd Institute, Jennifer Whelihan, the center will be up and running soon.

“The first stage of the building program is essentially complete,” she said. “Some of the offices in the facility are being utilized now; the first scientists will enter in about six weeks; The Research Clinic will be operational in about a month.”

While construction is almost complete, the harder task of fundraising is not yet over, Whelihan said.

“The Byrd Institute houses three laboratory floors and a brain imaging center that are currently unfinished and will need additional funding over the next few years to be completed.”

Byrd was a former Speaker of the Florida State House of Representatives whose father suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. To help his father and all those suffering from Alzheimer’s in Florida, Byrd fought hard for the funding of a research center concentrating on the disease.

Alzheimer’s has been defined as a “progressive brain disorder that gradually destroys a person’s memory and ability to learn reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities,” by the Alzheimer’s Association’s Web site. It’s estimated that the disease will affect five million Americans this year.

The Byrd Institute has a simple mission: to prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease. Through its affiliation with The Byrd Institute, USF will be elevated to the top of the field of Alzheimer’s research.

“When finished and filled with scientists, the Byrd Institute will be the largest free-standing Research Institute in the world that is devoted to understanding and curing Alzheimer’s disease,” Whelihan said.For USF students interested in the field of Alzheimer’s Research, there will plenty of opportunities to get involved with the work going on at the Byrd Institute.”There are four USF graduate students and one University of Tampa student currently employed by the Institute,” Whelihan said. “The plan is for USF students – both undergraduate and graduate – to have research opportunities at the Byrd Institute as soon as the Byrd-USF affiliation agreement is finalized.”

The Byrd Institute is an independent, not-for-profit, statewide institute headquartered on the USF campus.

Huntington Potter, Ph.D., is the CEO and Scientific Director of the Byrd Institute. Potter also holds the Eric Pfeiffer Endowed Chair for Research on Alzheimer’s disease at the Suncoast Gerontology Center and is a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at USF’s College of Medicine. Potter hopes that USF and the Byrd Institute will benefit from each other just as the Moffitt Cancer Center and USF have.

“Modern science has allowed us to prevent or postpone many diseases of aging so that life expectancy continues to rise,” Potter said. “That benefit has a dark side: if we all live to 85, half of us will have Alzheimer’s disease and the other half will be caregivers. The cost to the American economy is now $100 billion per year and rising fast. We must cure this problem for our parents, ourselves and our society.”