Jim and Sallie Johnson have donated $5 million to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to support Alzheimer’s research. The grant will fund a human cell modeling initiative, using a new technology called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). This technology has the potential to significantly advance Alzheimer’s research, allowing new therapies to be developed with the goal of developing a treatment for the disease.
The Johnsons’ gift will help UAB hire an iPSC researcher and establish a lab to develop the technology as soon as next summer.
The decision to make the gift was a personal one for the Johnsons. Jim Johnson’s grandmother, mother and sister have all suffered from the disease, and he is familiar with the toll the disease takes not just on the person diagnosed, but on the entire family.
“Lots of people have a relative with Alzheimer’s,” Johnson said. “It’s not fully recognized how traumatic it is. Current treatment is a hopeless continuation of decline for the patient and their family.”
“It’s going to be transformative for Alzheimer’s and UAB,” Sallie Johnson said.
“This gift allows us to bring an important technology to UAB,” said David Standaert, MD, PhD and chair of the Department of Neurology “It’s an amazing technology. For years, we thought cell development was a one-way path, and once the cell developed, there was no going back. The discovery of how to make iPSCs changed all of that and earned a Nobel Prize in 2012. Now, you can take a cell, like a piece of skin, grow a skin cell in a dish, and turn back the clock and turn it into a stem cell. It can then become any type of cell, so if we’re studying Alzheimer’s, we can induce it to become a brain cell in a dish.”