A generous boost to dementia research

By: Alex Branch

Sids Web

A generous estate gift from a longtime community volunteer whose family was impacted by dementia will establish a $3 million endowed chair to support groundbreaking research into Alzheimer’s disease and other translational research projects at UNT Health Science Center.

Sid O’Bryant, PhD, Professor and Director of the Institute for Translational Research, will hold The Dr. Joe and Peggy Schooler Endowed Chair in Pharmacology and Neuroscience. Two endowed scholarships also will be created through the estate gift.

The endowment will support the university and Dr. O’Bryant, who is working to develop a blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease within a primary care setting. His work is the first-ever study of a blood-screening test for biomarkers to be used with primary care patients.

“The endowment from Dr. Joe and Peggy Schooler is of tremendous importance to the advancement of translational research at UNTHSC, which is geared to improving the lives of patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases,” Dr. O’Bryant said. “This endowment will help support the ongoing research as well as pave the way for new lines of work to be conducted.

“I am humbled by the family’s generosity and proud to join them in the fight against these terrible brain diseases.”

The Institute of Translational Research was recently established under Dr. O’Bryant’s leadership to translate basic science into treatments and new procedures for Alzheimer’s and other diseases, and to reduce the time it takes for patients to experience the benefits.

The university was honored that Mrs. Schooler entrusted it with the gift, said Charles Taylor, PharmD, Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs.

“We are excited for Dr. O’Bryant to lead us in this new strategic direction and know he will be a tremendous steward of this substantial gift,” Dr. Taylor said. “We have a wonderful platform for our team of scientists to gain new knowledge and translate those discoveries to directly improve the lives of patients.”

The blood test Dr. O’Bryant is pursing could be a game-changer for the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s, which afflicts 5.7 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. For most patients, the blood test could be done in their doctor’s office and provide relief from the fear of having Alzheimer’s. For those whose results are positive, there would be the benefit of early detection and treatment planning.

Dr. O’Bryant also oversees one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted in the United States focused on Mexican-Americans and dementia. This five-year study began in 2017 and is funded by a $12 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Mrs. Schooler was married for 24 years to Dr. Joe F. Schooler Jr., a physician who opened a private practice in Fort Worth in 1963. Dr. Schooler died in 2008.

Mrs. Schooler was an active community volunteer. She scheduled drivers for her Woodhaven neighborhood’s Citizens on Patrol group and, even at age 82, helped the Fort Worth Police Department by portraying a witness or “walking wounded’ victim during officer training scenarios.

Her interest in Alzheimer’s and dementia was personal. She cared for her mother, who suffered from dementia, and spoke about how difficult it was to experience how it impacted her mother.

Mrs. Schooler died in September 2017. Her generosity in establishing the planned gift to support scientific research at UNTHSC was no surprise to people who knew her.

“Peggy was the most generous person I have ever known,” family friend Rick Disney said. “I know of at least two people Peggy helped out financially when they had tough times due to medical issues. We lost a great friend with her passing.”

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