Atlantic Philanthropies Gives €138m to Tackle Dementia

Posted on: 17 November 2015

The Atlantic Philanthropies is giving €138.4 million to Trinity College Dublin and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to establish the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI), a ground breaking initiative that aims to tackle the looming dementia epidemic and improve health and dementia care worldwide.

The landmark award,  which is the largest single programme grant Atlantic Philanthropies has ever made, is the biggest philanthropic donation in Irish history and  the largest ever received by Trinity College Dublin.

The announcement of the donation to GBHI was made at joint special events in Ireland and the United States today in Dublin and in San Francisco.

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said: “The Atlantic Philanthropies’ support over the last 20 years for research in the biomedical area has enabled Trinity College to become a recognised leader in ageing research. This, however, forms only a part of Chuck Feeney’s educational and research legacy in this country for which we are very grateful.  The Government’s vision is to make Ireland the ‘best country in which to grow old’ and we are delighted that Ireland is a part of this ambitious global initiative.”

Dementia is among the most devastating illnesses worldwide, affecting over 48 million people globally. It is expected to double every 20 years, if there are no effective interventions. The global disease burden is extensive with dementia also deeply affecting families. Public health interventions addressing risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and lifestyle factors could prevent 3-20% of new dementia cases in 20 years.

“Our goal is to create a generation of leaders around the world who have the knowledge, skills and drive to change both the practice of dementia care and the public health and societal forces that affect brain health,” said President and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, Christopher G. Oechsli. “By doing so, we hope to reduce dramatically the number of older people who develop this disease, which affects disproportionally those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and consumes not just the millions directly afflicted, but their families and caregivers as well. We have been working for several years in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to develop and implement their national strategies to combat dementia, and we are ready to extend and expand that successful effort.”

Co-led by Trinity College Dublin and UCSF, the GBHI initiative will train 600 global leaders over 15 years in the US, Ireland and across the world to carry out dementia research, deliver health care, and change policies and practices. It will be partnering with other institutions worldwide in Latin America, Vietnam, South Africa and Asia and Australia.

GBHI will have shared operations in Trinity and the UCSF that will be led by Trinity’s Professor of Psychology, Ian Roberston and Professor Bruce Miller, MD, a behavioural neurologist and director of the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF. The central programme will graduate ‘Fellows’ over a two year period.  They will receive hands-on experience in diagnosis, treatment and long-term management of patients with cognitive disorders, as well as elderly people who are at risk for brain health disorders. They will also be trained in how to help affected families and their caregivers.

A second  ‘Scholars’ programme lasting one year will focus on providing shorter brain health experiences for people from all types of environments, including journalists, managers, filmmakers and others.

“We want to train leaders, not just in medicine and public policy, but also social science, journalism, law, business and the arts, who can teach others about the preventable causes of cognitive impairment, which disproportionately affect the poor. That way, we can help change the course of this disease and protect vulnerable people around the world,” explained UCSF’s Professor Bruce Miller, MD.

The training for both fellows and scholar programmes will be multidisciplinary, including geriatrics, geropsychiatry, cognitive neuroscience, public policy, health economics, health law and communications. About half the GBHI fellows and scholars will come from the United States, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The other half will come from countries around the world. After training they will return to their home countries to become leaders and change agents in medicine, nursing, the social sciences and health policy. Support will be available to them from  GBHI to develop the dementia-focused programmes.

The initiative will train leaders to rapidly translate basic neuroscience findings in dementia from Trinity and UCSF where scientists are discovering compounds that can enhance cognitive function and possibly protect against neuronal injury, as well as testing how well new drugs and diagnostic methods are working to help people with dementia.

Trinity and UCSF are in an excellent position to deliver GBHI based on their strengths in brain health research.

Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin, Ian Robertson explained: “Dementia needs to be tackled across disciplines, from molecular biology to psychology and physiology to social science – to develop innovative, cutting edge solutions. Both Trinity and UCSF are well placed to do this, as we have leading academics and practitioners in all of these fields and close collaboration and service integration among people who work at all levels to meet this growing challenge.”

President and Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast said: “The Atlantic Philanthropies and its founder Chuck Feeney have made the biggest private donation in Irish history. The sum donated is huge but so too is the problem we are trying to solve. There is hardly a family anywhere that has not experienced dementia in some shape or form. We are delighted that The Atlantic Philanthropies has once again turned to Trinity and UCSF to find answers to the problems posed by this difficult condition. There is no doubt in my mind that this imaginative project will bring benefits to people around the world, create jobs here in Ireland and deepen Trinity’s expertise in neuroscience and ageing. The Trinity team, headed by Professors Ian Robertson and Brian Lawlor, has already delivered pioneering programmes. In making this award, The Atlantic Philanthropies intended to leave a lasting legacy for the benefit of society and we in Trinity and UCSF will make sure that we fulfil that objective.”

At Trinity College Dublin, the GBHI will be housed in the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. It will be led by Professor of Psychology, Ian Robertson, and Conolly Norman Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, Brian Lawlor.

CEO of The Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland, Colette Kelleher said: “The Alzheimer Society of Ireland strongly welcomes the creation of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin. The fact that this is the largest grant ever donated in the history of the State is both immeasurably generous and a welcome recognition of the gravity and scale of dementia as a burgeoning public health issue. With numbers expected to treble in a generation, dementia is not just an issue facing our generation but our children and their children too. Here in Ireland there are 48,000 people living with the condition cared for by 50,000 family carers. Our hope would be these people and future generations will directly benefit from the situating of such a prestigious, world-class institute here in Ireland.  The potential of clinical research combined with focused policy action and public health interventions to address dementia could be truly remarkable.”

About UCSF

At UCSF, the GBHI program will be located within the Memory and Aging Center at the Mission Bay campus and will be led by Miller, Victor Valcour, MD, PhD, and Rosalie Gearhart, RN. The Memory and Aging Center is a world leader in research, treatment and education about age-related brain disorders and has 30 full-time faculty members who will contribute to the GBHI.

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco. Please visit

About The Atlantic Philanthropies

The Atlantic Philanthropies are dedicated to advancing opportunity, equity and human dignity. Established in 1982, when Chuck Feeney quietly committed virtually all of his assets to the foundation, Atlantic has since made grants approaching $8 billion. In keeping with Mr. Feeney’s “Giving While Living,” big-bet philosophy, Atlantic invests in systemic change to accelerate improvements in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people. The foundation, which has operated in Australia, Bermuda, Cuba, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam, will complete all grant making in 2016 and conclude operations shortly afterward.

Media Coverage: Morning Ireland; RTÉ; 1 6.01 News; RTÉ; 1pm News; RTÉ; website; The Journal; Irish Times; Irish Independent; Irish Independent

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