This morning, a champion for Alzheimer’s research, a legendary coach, dedicated mother and courageous woman was lost.
For nearly four decades, Pat Summitt was the head coach of the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols basketball team. In that time, she achieved the most wins in NCAA basketball history of any coach, and never had a losing season. In 2011, she revealed that she was facing her fiercest opponent off the court – early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Shortly thereafter, she established the Pat Summitt Foundation to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s by funding research, raising awareness and supporting affected families.
Pat was heroic in announcing her diagnosis in August 2011, though her bravery came of no surprise to anyone who followed her on and off the court.
“We’re going to fight, and we’re going to fight publicly,” Pat said in a letter announcing the Foundation.
Through her foundation, Pat brought together leading scientists and experts, and united them in the common goal to find a cure. Since 2012, the Pat Summitt Foundation has awarded $800,000 in grants and financial support. Much of those funds have gone to nonprofits that conduct research for a cure. In addition, the Foundation is working to establish The Pat Summitt Alzheimer’s Clinic at the University of Tennessee.
In 2014, FBR had the unique opportunity to produce a video featuring Pat and her fight against Alzheimer’s. The show highlighted her refusal to give up, how she impacted the lives of those around her, and how animal research has furthered understanding of Alzheimer’s.
Animal research has played a significant role in the pursuit of an Alzheimer’s cure. Scientists are able to study rodents with the same amyloid protein in the brain that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. That model allows researchers to explore options to remove or block the protein. Recent research has indicated that Alzheimer’s may be caused by an overzealous immune system which destroys some of the connections between neurons.
In addition to mice, monkeys have played and continue to play an indispensable role in Alzheimer’s research. Because of their similarities, looking at what is happening in a healthy monkey brain helps scientists better understand how the human brain works, and the role of cognitive and motor problems in diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The research and discovery happening right now with Alzheimer’s disease is critical for the future of public health. In 2016, it is estimated that 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, with roughly 200,000 people affected by the early-onset form of the disease. Current costs associated with treating and caring for those living with Alzheimer’s disease is a staggering $236 billion. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the disease is projected to cost more than $1 trillion by 2050 if effective treatments are not discovered. And animal research is vital for finding an effective cure.
Pat was a legendary coach with an incredible legacy, but perhaps her greatest legacy will be helping to defeat Alzheimer’s.
Images courtesy of the Pat Summitt Foundation.