Huntsville, Ala. – There are more than 600 neurodegenerative diseases that affect millions of people worldwide. HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is working on several fronts to identify new causes, develop early detection tools and uncover novel paths to therapy to improve how we diagnose, treat and ultimately prevent these diseases. A recent gift from the Wayne, Luanne and Peri Widener Fund for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases will fuel new research on these important diseases at HudsonAlpha.
Wayne Widener lived for more than a decade with a rare neurodegenerative disease called corticobasal degeneration (CBD). After his diagnosis, Wayne and his family spent years consulting specialists before finally learning there is no current treatment.
“We established the Wayne, Luanne and Peri Widener Fund for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases at HudsonAlpha in 2013 to focus resources on this important research,” said Peri Widener, Wayne Widener’s daughter. “My father was a brilliant, kind and resilient man, and we resolved to use his journey with this terrible disease as a way to bring visibility and hope for others. This research is an important step toward earlier identification and treatment of neurodegenerative disease.”
Wayne was born and raised in Cleveland, Oklahoma and attended high school in Wichita, Kansas. Wayne attended Wichita State University and eventually went on to work for Boeing for a career that spanned 42 years finally retiring as the director of contracts.
In addition, he was also a celebrated golfer and enjoyed the sport for many years. Wayne’s journey with CBD began on one of his many golf trips with friends when he noticed he was having difficulty gripping the golf club. What started as a small annoyance quickly turned into more.
Wayne sought the counsel of a physician who first suspected his problem as a possible side effect of a stroke. Little did Wayne or his family know at this moment that it was actually the first sign of CBD. CBD is a neurological condition primarily associated with movement disorders. In recent years, researchers have noted that cognitive and behavioral abnormalities occur more frequently than initially believed. In some cases, the signs and symptoms of dementia may even precede the development of motor symptoms.
As the disease progressed so did Wayne’s resolve to find the root cause of his medical mysteries. He traveled to many hospitals, institutions, and university medical centers seeing various doctors. He finally found his answer in a PET scan with a specialist in the CBD field. Today, Peri and her mother, Luanne, continue Wayne’s effort to educate others about CBD and to seek answers for all those affected by this disease.
“We are so grateful for the support of the Widener family,” said Rick Myers, PhD, president and science director of HudsonAlpha. “Knowing the genomic underpinnings of neurodegenerative diseases is a crucial step in understanding and preventing these diseases. Philanthropic dollars have an instrumental role to play in our ability to pursue promising advances in scientific research.”
The most recent Widener Fund gift will support research within the Memory and Mobility (M&M) Program to seek new biomarkers indicative of neurodegenerative disease to aid in early detection and diagnosis.
“We are excited that we have now been able to dive into biomarker development efforts for these diseases,” said Nick Cochran, PhD, senior scientist at HudsonAlpha. “This funding has allowed us to start a comprehensive study of a molecule called RNA in the blood of patients from Alabama. This approach provides an opportunity to capitalize on our genomics and biomarker development expertise at HudsonAlpha to gather insight that could help diagnose disease earlier and in less invasive ways.”
The gift also includes a match component. All gifts to the Memory & Mobility (M&M) program campaign will help the HudsonAlpha Foundation match the goal and continue to fund research to find new discoveries in these devastating diseases. To make a gift to help sustain and expand this research, please visit hudsonalpha.org/donate.