Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter: Tucked away in a 4th floor lab of UT Southwestern's Pickens building, just down the hall from the Simmons Biomedical Research Building, is Craig Powell's lab. The Medical Center's assistant professor spends most of his time studying mice, & says 50 million dollars from Simmons, for brain and neurological research, is huge.
UTSW Assistant Professor Craig Powell: What this money will do for UT Southwestern is inject the ability to recruit top neuroscience leaders from other fields for years to come, which will keep us enthused and interested and on the cutting edge of what we do here, which is study molecular bases of neurologic disease.
Zeeble: Powell hopes this & other funding will eventually lead to cures. He says his lab already has a genetic model for autism.
Powell: That's allowed us to examine with collaborators the neuralmechanism that might underlie behavior changes in autistic patients. There are many recent advances in areas of alzheimers disease, study of mouse models of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, and a host of other neurological disorders.
Zeeble: One of UT Southwestern's 4 Nobel prize winners, Al Gilman, Dean of the Medical School, says at the basic biological level, neuroscience is like the last frontier. And now, there's funding to explore it.
Al Gilman, Dean UT Southwestern Medical Center: How do we think? What makes us human? Enormously and challenging questions like that that'll be answered over the next few decades and a wide variety of neurologic diseases in need of solutions. From behavioral problems to degenerative neurological diseases, and structural problems in the brain all those areas will be impacted by this gift.
Zeeble: Gilman says some answers could be just a few years away. Scientists acknowledge UT Southwestern is already a leading research facility, thanks in part to more than 600 donors who've given at least half a billion dollars to fund neuroscience research. But
UT Southwestern president Kern Wildenthal says it's the Simmons' 125 million dollars, given over the past few years, that's unprecedented.
UT Southwestern President Kern Wildenthal; To put this in perspective, $125 million is by far the largest total donation to any campaign for any purpose by a living donor in the history of Texas.
Zeeble: Billionaire investor Harold Simmons was modest with the few words he offered. He said he and his wife Annette had become close and more impressed through the years with the quality and creativity of the people at UT Southwestern, and the difference they've made.
Harold Simmons: And actually we just like them a lot.
Bill Zeeble KERA news.