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USF, Byrd relationship discussed

The Alzheimer’s research institute on campus is working on its relations with the University in light of proposed legislation that would ease budget cuts by uniting it with USF.

The Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer’s Center & Research Institute held a meeting recently to discuss its mission and governance.

Governance is especially significant now because a bill for the institute to become part of the University has been presented in the Florida Senate.

Melanie Meyers, chief of government relations at Byrd, does not think this shift is necessary.

“We want to have a close working relationship with the University,” she said. “We don’t think the only way to do that is to become a department.” She said if the institute became part of the University, it would transition from having one focus to being part of an academic setting with many demands.

She said she was concerned that the bill did not discuss funding. In the context of the $55 million in budget cuts faced by USF, the bill could seem like an unfunded mandate, she said.

“Last year, our budget was reduced by $1.5 million to $13.5 million,” said Thomas R. Conklin, a Byrd board member. “We were receiving $15 million and the Legislature is now looking to cut our budget further.”

He says the institute’s mission, however, will remain the same.

“We confirmed our mission was unchanged: to cure or prevent Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Conklin said the institute should take advantage of the fact that it is located in a research university.

“We discussed the fact that the University of South Florida is our host university,” he said. “We sit on the campus and we feel we should be working closer with the University and collaborating more than we do.”

Conklin believes this can be achieved by having administrative functions done by the University and working with its finance department, accounting and bookkeeping.

The institute, however, wishes to remain independent so it can focus on its own goals and not conflict with the University.

“We want to draw a distinction because we feel it is important for the institution to be independent as well,” Conklin said. “We want to be more closely functioning with the University. We think that’s important.”

Michael Hoad, vice president of communications at USF, said the University wanted Byrd to become apart of USF because it would be a beneficial relationship for both.

“Basically, our feeling is that this is a very good time for it to be part of USF. We can share resources and we can work together on treating patients,” he said.

“The University’s position has been that the Byrd Institute has a statewide mission and we want to preserve it.”

With budget cuts, Hoad said, it would be difficult for the institute to maintain state funding.

“The Byrd Institute’s future is better if it’s part of USF.”

An ad hoc committee was created at the meeting to determine how the University and institute can better work together. Conklin said the close relationship with the University that the committee is attempting to create would further the institute’s mission of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.

“We’re at a critical time for Alzheimer’s research – 90 percent of all Alzheimer’s research has been completed in the last 10 years,” Conklin said.

Meyers said Alzheimer’s is a looming problem for Florida because age is the single greatest predictor of risk. She said this is important to know because the brain changes 20 years before Alzheimer’s is detectable, so an individual diagnosed with it at 65 has actually been undergoing those changes since he or she was 45. This adds to the urgency for ongoing research, which is difficult to do with budget cuts, she said.

“If you don’t have money, you can’t do as much research as you would like to do,” Conklin said.

He said students will also be discouraged to study Alzheimer’s if there is a lack of steady funding, but this barrier can be overcome if the University and institute work together.

“It is a research university and there are so many ways for us to gather and find a cure for Alzheimer’s,” Conklin said. “We just need to think out of the box.”