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Two Scaife foundations give Pitt $10.8 million

Wednesday, August 02, 2000

By Bill Schackner, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Two foundations connected with the Scaife family are giving the University of Pittsburgh one of the largest gifts in the school's history: $10.8 million toward research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

The grant announced yesterday is being funded equally by the Scaife Family and Scaife Charitable foundations. It will aid in combating a range of diseases that have gained a higher profile nationally as America's population ages.

The bulk of the grant -- $10 million -- will go toward new facilities for the university's planned Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases. The remainder will be used to support program development and research activities prior to the facility's construction.

Pitt, already squeezed for research space on its Oakland campus, may locate the institute on the bottom three floors of a new, 12-story biomedical science tower under consideration by campus planners. A site has not been chosen for the tower, whose construction would require additional fund raising by Pitt.

The institute is intended to bring together clinical and laboratory investigators on a variety of neurological maladies such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease), Huntington's disease and stroke.

It is expected to work closely with existing university centers for similar research, including Pitt's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Jennie K. Scaife, a representative of the Scaife Family Foundation, said her organization saw the grant as a way to help reduce human suffering.

"We have all seen family members or friends whose lives have been devastated by these diseases, and as our nation's population ages, finding the answers to alleviating these conditions becomes increasingly urgent," she said.

David N. Scaife, a representative of the Scaife Charitable Foundation, pointed to what he said was Pitt's demonstrated commitment to research in that area.

"We also recognize the ongoing commitment of the university and UPMC to secure in Pittsburgh the talent and resources needed to make world-class medical research a thriving component of our local economy," he said.

The university in accepting the grant has committed to break ground for an institute facility no later than the end of 2003. But that is a conservative date and work may begin much sooner, said Michael J. Zigmond, associate director for basic research with the new institute.

He said the institute will likely require the university to hire an additional 50 to 100 clinical, research and administrative employees.

But he said the institute's more far-reaching impact will be felt in the quality of research and care being given. He said one in four Americans will eventually face conditions produced by the loss of nerve cells, such as Alzheimer's.

"Normally, these conditions are treated in isolation. Patients are treated in separate clinics, and related research goes on in separate laboratories," he said.

The institute will take a different approach by more closely aligning research and patient care.

"The idea is basically to take people who are seeing patients and people who are doing research and put them in the same building, as well as people who are doing basic and clinical research," Zigmond said.

Pitt leaders hailed the grant, the third largest cash grant in the school's history and the fourth biggest of any kind made to Pitt. It comes amid a time of record fund raising for university leaders, who are in the quiet phase of a capital campaign that is expected to approach half a billion dollars.

"We deeply appreciate the [Scaife family's] level of commitment to the university and to the cause of human health," said Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg. "Their faith in our ability, working with the UMPC Health System, to treat, cure and ultimately prevent neurological disease will continue to guide us."

He predicted the institute's impact will be felt "both locally and around the world."

And he alluded to a tradition of Scaife giving to the university.

"It is no accident that Scaife Hall houses a school of medicine that has emerged as one of the top medical schools in the nation," Nordenberg said.

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