Philanthropy has played a key role in UF Health’s neuroscience research and clinical programs
hilanthropy has played a key role in the history of UF Health’s neuroscience research and clinical programs. From the 1990s, when the Brain Institute was in its infancy, up to the past year, private support has helped catalyze remarkable growth. By investing in people and fueling the power of human ingenuity, private donors have helped UF Health physicians, scientists and health care professionals not only improve treatments for those who suffer from disorders of the brain but also move closer to finding cures. While our list of valued donors has grown exponentially through the years, the people and organizations highlighted here represent some of the pioneers whose support helped set UF on a path of discovery in the field of neuromedicine.
Lillian S. Wells Foundation
For more than three decades, the Lillian S. Wells Foundation has been integral to the growth of and advancements made by UF’s department of neurosurgery, which in 2016 was renamed the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery, to date the only named department in the College of Medicine’s 63-year history. With a total of more than $25 million in gifts beginning in 1983, the Wells Foundation has funded two professorships, provided the first stereotactic radiosurgery system in Florida and established and continues to support UF’s Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy, where multidisciplinary teams of experts provide individualized treatment plans and conduct leading-edge research. Among the foundation’s gifts, a $10 million contribution in 2011 to recruit a preeminent brain tumor science team to UF was matched by the university and used to recruit renowned immunotherapy expert Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD, and his team of investigators.
B.J. and Eve Wilder Family Foundation
Neurologist B.J. Wilder, MD, is a giant in his field known for improving the practice of treating epilepsy by developing standard drug levels for antiepileptic medications. The Gainesville native, a professor emeritus of neurology and neuroscience in UF’s College of Medicine, retired in 1994, but with his late wife, Eve, has passionately supported UF’s research into neurological diseases since the 1970s.
With donations to UF totaling more than $5.7 million from the B.J. and Eve Wilder Family Foundation, the couple established three faculty endowments: two professorships in epilepsy, currently held by Jean Cibula, MD, and Giridhar Kalamangalam, MD, and one in Alzheimer’s disease, currently held by Demetrius M. Maraganore, MD. In addition, the Wilders established the B.J. and Eve Wilder Center for Excellence in Epilepsy Research at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute, and they have made significant gifts to the UF Brain Bank and to support research fellowships in dementia.
And this year, the family tradition continues, with daughter Karen Wilder Scott joining the leadership council of the newly established Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health.
McKnight Brain Research Foundation
At the start of the new millennium, a $15 million gift from the McKnight Brain Research Foundation put UF on the map as a national leader in brain research. The gift was matched by the state, and the then-new UF Brain Institute became the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida. The late McKnights of Miami Beach — Evelyn, a nurse, and William, longtime chairman of the board of the 3M Co. — were passionate about furthering the understanding of age-related memory loss, or normal changes to the brain in advanced age. The McKnights’ hope was to drive research that could produce recommendations and treatments for preventing age-related cognitive decline and memory loss in the vast majority: people who experience normal cognitive aging but are unaffected by pathological memory loss such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Today, the McKnight Brain Research Foundation continues to support investigators in UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory Clinical Translational Research and UF’s Age-Related Memory Loss programs.
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