A generous philanthropic gift from the Simon Family Trust is supporting the creation of the new Gladstone-UCSF Center for Neurovascular Brain Immunology, which will be led by Katerina Akassoglou, PhD, senior investigator at Gladstone Institutes. The $2.5-million donation will help scientists study neurological diseases by combining basic and clinical research in vascular biology, immunology, and neuroscience.
The center’s primary goal—to develop new treatments for multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury, stroke, depression, and other diseases—closely resonates with the foundation’s founders, Nick and Susie Simon.
“My mother unfortunately passed due to complications related to dementia, and I’ve always wanted to do something to help others who may be suffering from that disease,” says Nick Simon, who is also a trustee of Gladstone Institutes. “It’s been a very frustrating area of research for the entire scientific community because very few advances have been successful so far. But the new center’s approach to tackle a common underlying contributor to neurological diseases gives me hope that it can finally lead to effective treatments.”
The motivation for Susie is a personal one as well. Her interest in the new centers stems, in part, from a traumatic experience she had in the 1980s.
“I was in a serious car accident and sustained head trauma,” she explains. “I now realize how traumatic brain injury can have a profound impact on all aspects of one’s life. By focusing on studying the consequences of blood leaks in the brain, I believe Katerina and her colleagues can help countless people who are affected not only by neurological diseases, but also mental health disorders, both of which are very important to me.”
The Simons have been supporting Gladstone in different capacities since 2004. Nick was initially an Advisory Council member helping raise awareness and funds for research, then joined the board of the Gladstone Foundation. He became a Gladstone trustee in 2017. Originally introduced to Gladstone through Nick’s involvement, Susie developed her own connections by partnering with Linda Mahley to help teach English as a Second Language to foreign postdoctoral scholars and other biomedical researchers from 2009 to 2014.
“I’ve always had a passion for translational research; in other words, moving medical research discoveries from the lab into the marketplace so they can be available for those in need,” says Nick, who has over 40 years of operating and investment experience in the biopharmaceutical industry, and is currently senior managing director in the Life Sciences group of Blackstone. “I’ve been working with Gladstone over the past decade and a half because I continue to be impressed by their outstanding research, as well as their mission to advance science and ultimately turn discoveries into medicines.”
Nick and Susie recently set up the Simon Family Trust, and they chose to make the first significant commitment from this trust to the new research center.
“We’re very excited about the possibilities presented by this new center,” says Nick Simon. “The combination of Gladstone’s basic research and UCSF’s clinical expertise will allow the team to take what they learn in the lab and rapidly start to test it in patients as the science emerges. This tactic promises not only to have an impact on diseases like multiple sclerosis, but could also have an impact on such complex diseases as Alzheimer’s that represent one of today’s most significant unmet medical needs.”
“The support from the Simon Family Trust has been instrumental in launching our new research center,” says Akassoglou, who is also a professor of neurology at UCSF. “Thanks to Nick and Susie, we can implement our boldest ideas by bringing together three distinct disciplines to better understand mechanisms at the blood-brain barrier interface, and implement innovative drug discovery approaches to combat neurodegeneration”
Over time, Nick and Susie Simon expect their family trust to continue investing in research and other important initiatives.
“We are inviting our three children, and eventually our five grandchildren, to choose their own philanthropic initiatives to support,” says Susie. “That way, we hope our family will continue to have a positive impact on causes such as Gladstone’s goal of advancing science to overcome disease.”
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