Soto to head center; latest gift brings Mitchells' total contributions to UTMB aging and neurodegenerative disease programs to more than $10 million

For immediate release: Feb. 6, 2007

GALVESTON, Texas - A recent $5 million gift from George and Cynthia Mitchell to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston raises to $10.5 million the couple's investment in UTMB and its programs to fight neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and to improve the quality of life for seniors. Their most recent gift will allow for expanded research at the university's George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, which previously focused solely on Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Claudio Soto, one of the world's leading researchers on the misfolded brain proteins believed to cause Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, has been named to lead the expanded center. He has served as director of the Mitchell Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research for the past year.

The aim of the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases is to create a world-class institution that combines cutting-edge basic science with drug discovery and development, as well as dedicated care for patients suffering from brain diseases.

Beginning with a 1984 gift that helped put in place a strong foundation for UTMB's premier programs in aging and longevity, the Mitchells have since made ongoing, significant contributions to these programs. They endowed the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Geriatric Medicine (currently held by Sealy Center on Aging Director Dr. James Goodwin), established the original Mitchell Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and its Drug Discovery and Development Program, and broadened the center's research to include all neurogenerative diseases.

"Expanding the scope of the Mitchell Center to cover research in all areas of brain degeneration gives us an opportunity to increase collaboration among scientists studying brain diseases and allows us to capitalize on existing UTMB expertise," Soto said.

"The new funding from the Mitchells will be used to recruit outstanding, well-established investigators, to establish an award program to boost UTMB's efforts in brain research, and to support our research in discovering and developing new treatments for these diseases," he said.

Contributions from the Mitchells have fueled an explosion of neurodegenerative disease research, including clinical trials, at UTMB. Currently, more than 20 UTMB research groups totaling more than 100 scientists are using National Institutes of Health funding to actively study different aspects of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, as well as cerebral ataxias, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and mad cow disease.

"More than 7 million Americans have neurodegenerative disorders, most of them suffering from Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Garland Anderson, dean of medicine and the Jennie Sealy Smith Distinguished Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology at UTMB. "We are proud to have a scientist of Dr. Soto's stature and achievement at UTMB. And we are grateful to the Mitchells for recognizing and supporting the critical importance of Dr. Soto's research.

Dr. Tetsuo Ashizawa, chair of UTMB's Department of Neurology, also acknowledged the Mitchells for continuing to support the university's pioneering neurodegenerative disease research.

"Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell have allowed our studies of neurodegenerative diseases to take significant strides forward," said Ashizawa, the John Sealy Chair in Neurology. "With their backing, we are making important progress in our understanding of these diseases, and we are hastening the day when we can create drugs that will help patients forestall or stop development of these diseases."

Soto came to UTMB in 2003, after achieving an impressive series of breakthroughs in the detection and repair of the misshapen brain proteins responsible for Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

He holds the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Distinguished University Chair in Neuroscience and is a professor of neurology, neurosciences, cell biology, biochemistry and molecular biology. He earned a bachelor's degree and doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Chile, and he did postdoctoral research in neurobiology at the Catholic University of Chile and in neuroscience at New York University Medical Center.

George Mitchell, a native Galvestonian, built Mitchell Energy into one of the nation's largest independent oil and gas companies. In addition to developing The Woodlands and its Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Performing Arts, the Mitchells are credited with initiating the resurgence of tourism and historic preservation on Galveston Island through their restoration of the city's Strand district and by reviving Mardi Gras celebrations on the island.
The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Public Affairs Office
301 University Boulevard, Suite 3.102
Galveston, Texas 77555-0144