Stanford Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience will fight neurodegeneration

A new campus-wide initiative will harness Stanford’s multidisciplinary scientific expertise to tackle one of the most baffling questions in brain science: why do some people succumb to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, while others reach their 90s with their mental acuity intact?

Tony Wyss-Coray, DH Chen II Professor Emeritus of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford, has been named the inaugural director of the Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience. (Image credit: Gary Wagner)

Based at Wu Tsai Institute of Neurosciencethis science-based enterprise was launched with a $75 million gift from Nike founder Philip H. Knight, MBA ’62, and his wife, Penny. Tony Wyss-CorayDH Chen Distinguished Professor II of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford, has been named the inaugural director of the Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience.

“This initiative will examine long-held assumptions about the causes of neurodegeneration and advance our understanding of how to maintain brain resilience into old age, which is a cornerstone of quality of life,” said the president of Stanford. Marc Tessier-Lavigne, who is himself a pioneering neuroscientist. “As one of the leading experts in the field of brain degeneration and aging, Tony Wyss-Coray is uniquely positioned to lead this important undertaking. I am very grateful to Penny and Phil for their generosity and for their commitment to transforming millions of lives for the better.

The Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience will draw on Stanford’s interdisciplinary expertise in medicine, neuroscience, engineering, human biology, chemistry, psychology and many other fields to foster unprecedented collaborations between researchers, clinicians and scholars . The goal is to spark new ideas and innovations and bring knowledge to a point where it is possible to promote brain rejuvenation and prevent certain brain disorders, as well as prevent and treat cognitive decline.

“As Phil and I age, we see the devastating impact of neurodegeneration on our friends and loved ones,” Penny Knight said. “We call it the ‘Brain Resilience Initiative’ because we want to focus on the positive outcomes this important research can produce: healthy aging and the potential to help everyone live a healthier life. fulfilled and more dynamic later in life. We are thrilled to invest behind our belief that Stanford is the place to make it happen, and we feel privileged to have the opportunity to do so.

The Knights have long been Stanford supporters. Their 2016 donation launched the Knight Hennessy Scholars program, a graduate scholarship to prepare a new generation of global leaders equipped with the skills to meet the increasingly complex challenges facing the world. They also made a major donation to build the Knight Management Center at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and provided substantial support to endowed faculty and Stanford Athletics.

hope over pain

As more people around the world live longer, the urgency to understand neurodegeneration and find treatments for debilitating, often fatal diseases continues to grow. Most people know someone who has suffered from a neurodegenerative disease, and it can be a heartbreaking experience to go through. Once-vibrant people lose mental capacity, see decades of memories fade, experience physical and verbal symptoms, and become dependent on others for care. Despite decades and billions of dollars of research, much remains to be learned about the fundamental mechanisms of this decline and little can be done to halt or reverse it.

The Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience targets both the causes of decline and potential treatments and will pursue three distinct lines of research. The first will focus on human neuroscience to clarify the unique human aspects of brain aging and why some people experience a relatively early decline in cognitive function while others appear protected long into old age. The second pathway will cultivate new approaches through basic neuroscience, identifying the fundamentals of brain health, how the brain develops and how it ages. The third pathway will seek targeted neurotherapies through early diagnoses and effective treatments for brain degeneration as well as techniques that promote healthy aging and brain resilience.

William Newsome, Vincent VC Woo, director of the Wu Tsai Institute of Neuroscience, said the Knight Initiative will conduct pioneering brain research to develop better therapies and improve the human condition. Newsome played a lead role in working with an interdisciplinary team of Stanford faculty to develop the vision for the initiative.

“Despite concerted research on many fronts over the past few decades, we’re still not much closer to understanding the inner workings of healthy brains and the things that go wrong in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s disease. The fact is, there are virtually no effective treatments for most of these conditions,” Newsome said. “Over nearly a decade, we’ve built a collaborative, interdisciplinary neuroscience community at Stanford to address big questions about the human brain and behavior that couldn’t be answered in our old silos. Thanks to the vision of Penny and Phil and the expert leadership of Tony, now is the time to use this solid foundation to launch this bold initiative and transform the way we think about brain aging and resilience.

A new era of brain science

By bringing together faculty and labs from all of Stanford’s schools and disciplines to collaboratively address big questions about the human brain and behavior – questions that cannot be addressed within traditional academic boundaries – the Knight Initiative aims to accelerate a new era of brain science. Nearly 500 faculty members are already engaged in neuroscience through the Wu Tsai Institute of Neuroscience, contributing their expertise in areas ranging from cell biology and psychology to computer science, social science and to education.

Philip H. Knight, MBA ’62, and his wife, Penny. (Image credit: Courtesy of Phil and Penny Knight)

The initiative will work closely with campus scientists, engineers, and clinicians as well as Stanford Medicine’s clinical research centers for neurodegenerative disease patients. This includes the Stanford Center for Memory Disorders, which is dedicated to addressing cognitive decline, and the NIH-designated Iqbal Farrukh and Asad Jamal Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Stanford, which is led by Victor Henderson, professor of epidemiology. and population health and neurology and neurological sciences. These centers are closely linked to the Department of Neurology chaired by Frank Longo, Professor of Medicine George E. and Lucy Becker.

“Building new relationships between Stanford clinical experts and key basic scientists, engineers, researchers and other Stanford scientific staff will bring new collaborations, insights and technologies into our ability to treat the whole patient, keeping people healthy and thriving longer,” said Lloyd Minor, Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of Medicine at Stanford.

Wyss-Coray says neuroscience as a field is at a major inflection point.

“Major advances have given rise to new tools and techniques that now make it possible to observe and even adjust the circuits of a living brain. These include the sequencing of the human genome, analysis of the brain at the single cell level, breakthrough imaging capabilities, discoveries in nanoscience and physics, optogenetics and organogenesis of the human brain” , Wyss-Coray said. “By uniting the Stanford neuroscience community around the unsolved challenge of neurodegeneration, the Knight Initiative aims to harness these new tools and techniques, as well as the reduction of barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration, to inspire new science of brain aging and resilience and usher in a new era for brain science.

Wyss-Coray is setting out an aggressive research strategy for the Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience – approaches that he believes will move the initiative towards its goals in a meaningful way and are well within his reach. scope.

“About one in 10,000 individuals reach age 100 relatively cognitively unscathed — apparently resistant to the effects of time with intact memories and brain function,” Wyss-Coray said. “The Phil and Penny Knight Initiative for Brain Resilience seeks to mimic this circumvention of the aging process and raise the hope of completely reversing brain aging to rejuvenate the mind.”

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