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As baby boomers age, they bring with them a population explosion unseen in modern times. The numbers alone indicate that Orange County will see an influx of issues we have never faced before. And coping with a loved one who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia tops the list. At last count, 11.7 percent of Orange County residents age 65 and older are afflicted, as Orange County Healthy Aging Initiative reports, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death in California. The impact of this disease is staggering, as family members have come to understand all too well. That’s why people like philanthropist Keith Swayne and researchers at UC Irvine’s Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) are working to ensure our community has the necessary tools and support to maximize the quality of life for Alzheimer’s sufferers and their families.

With the support of Keith Swayne, researchers at UCI MIND are staying ahead of the curve by advancing research on Alzheimer’s disease, related dementias and other neurological disorders. In honor of his wife, Judy, Swayne and his family pledged $150,000 in the form of a challenge grant to UCI MIND. Judy passed away in November 2014 after a prolonged battle with Alzheimer’s disease, leaving a legacy of passion, persistence and devotion to philanthropy. Judy founded OCCF in 1989 and served as executive director until she retired in 2000.

Keith Swayne helped UCI MIND researchers by funding early work to demonstrate the feasibility of new induced pluripotent stem cell technology as a tool in Alzheimer’s research. This technology avoids the ethical challenges associated with embryonic stem cells. The gift ultimately resulted in a $600,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to further develop and study patient-derived stem cell lines. A compelling factor for the Federal funding was the strong philanthropic support from the community.

According to UCI MIND, research shows that:

  • Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds in the U.S. and there are over 5.4 million individuals who are afflicted.
  • California has more people with Alzheimer’s disease than any other state with 83,000 suffering with the disease or at high risk of developing it in Orange County alone.
  • Costs associated with caring for Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. are estimated to be $236 billion in 2016 and will rise to $1.2 trillion by 2050.

Spurred by their own experience with UCI MIND and the encouraging advancements being made by UCI MIND investigators in the field of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia research, Swayne and his family opted to invest.

“This is a devastating disease that slowly takes away your loved one,” says Keith Swayne. “The impact on the afflicted and the family is overwhelming.  The cost to society is immense and the outlook is for the situation to become dramatically worse over the next few decades. We owe it to Judy and all those suffering from the disease to step forward and do what we can to help find a cure and treatment. For us, UCI Mind offered that opportunity to support efforts that will have an impact.”

“Our goal is to understand and discover the causes and conditions that affect progression and to find ways to effectively prevent and treat them,” says Frank LaFerla, Ph.D., Dean of the Ayala School of Biological Sciences and Co-Director of UCI MIND. “We research ways to make memories last a lifetime, allowing individuals to age successfully and with dignity.”

Few discoveries in biology have as great a transformative potential for altering modern medical research as induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, according to LaFerla. Given the promise of iPS cells, UCI MIND established a National Alzheimer’s Disease iPS Cell Bank as part of its Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. It serves as a valuable resource for the entire Alzheimer’s research community and fits with UCI MIND’s pioneering role in stem cell research.

In addition to UCI MIND, there are a number of valuable resources in Orange County to help individuals and families confronting Alzheimer’s and its related issues. Go to Nonprofit Central to locate these organizations and find opportunities to support their work.