November is National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, drawing attention to a condition that impacts more than 5 million Americans. Until recently, a dysfunctional protein known as amyloid that builds up in the brain as the condition progresses has been a major focus of research into the disease. But scientists at the Mayo Clinic published a study in March 2015 that suggests a protein known as tau is the major cause of cognitive decline in those with Alzheimer’s disease.
In healthy brains, the two proteins – amyloid and tau – support brain cell function. For individuals with neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s, however, the proteins can clump together and eventually lead to cell death. The new study looked at more than 3,500 brains. And while it does not definitely rule out concerns over the amyloid protein, it does have significant implications for the future of research into the disease, which experts believe should now focus on tau.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s is one of a handful of neurodegenerative diseases in which misfolded tau plays a role. It is also found in supranuclear palsy, and frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism. A fund has been established at the North Texas Community Foundation to seek solutions for these types of neurological diseases.
The Rainwater Neurological Research Fund is a memorial celebrating the life of distinguished philanthropist Richard E. Rainwater. Richard will be remembered for numerous notable achievements, perhaps none so much as his remarkable commitment to charitable giving. He leaves behind a vast legacy of supporting the community he loved. During his life, he contributed more than $300 million to organizations focused on higher-education, at-risk children, and more recently, research to find a treatment for neurodegenerative diseases so others don’t suffer as he did.
Among Richard’s unparalleled contributions for the greater good was the formation of the Tau Consortium. It brings together some of the most talented and hardworking scientists in the world to find a treatment for brain diseases as quickly as possible. Formed in 2010, the Tau Consortium is an international group of clinical and basic scientists who work together with a sense of urgency to understand, treat and cure tau-related disorders.
The consortium is already credited with significant discoveries. And these discoveries will likely apply to an array of diseases that involve misfolded proteins – including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease, Lewy body dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and others. So while the number of people with disease involving exclusively tau may be considered small, progress by the consortium to address tauopathies will ultimately benefit scores of families who are counting on a solution – a cause to which Richard Rainwater was steadfastly dedicated.
The Rainwater Neurological Research Fund at the Community Foundation continues Richard’s legacy by supporting institutions that conduct critical research in the field of neuroscience. And because anyone can donate to the fund at any time, it ensures a mechanism is in place for those who, like Richard, want to help find solutions.