The Sobey Foundation gives $2M for Alzheimer's research chair

Donald Weaver to hold Irene MacDonald Sobey Chair

- June 27, 2012

Donald Weaver (seated) takes the literal "chair" for a test drive as Frank Sobey looks on. (Nick Pearce photo)
Donald Weaver (seated) takes the literal "chair" for a test drive as Frank Sobey looks on. (Nick Pearce photo)

A $2 million donation to the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) from The Sobey Foundation will be used to establish the DMRF Irene MacDonald Sobey Endowed Chair in Curative Approaches to Alzheimer’s Disease at Dalhousie.

The chair will be held by Dr. Donald Weaver, internationally acclaimed neurologist with Dalhousie Medical School, Capital Health, and the IWK Health Centre. Dr. Weaver is also a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Dalhousie’s Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience.

“It‘s an honour to be selected as the Sobey Chair in Alzheimer’s disease research,” said Dr. Weaver. “It’s deeply gratifying that the Sobey family and The Sobey Foundation has the generosity, courage, and foresight to support the search for a cure for this devastating disease.”

Several members of the Sobey family attended the event last Thursday marking the chair’s launch.

“I must say that I’ve never been happier to support the work of this university than I am with today’s announcement,” said David Sobey, speaking on behalf of The Sobey Foundation. “Battles are being waged on many fronts in the fight against disease, but this one is personal for the Sobey family,” he added, explaining that his mother, for whom the chair is named, suffered from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

“Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation has built an endowment of over $50 million to support medical research at Dalhousie Medical School and its affiliated teaching hospitals across the Maritimes. Today we will add to that endowment fund,” said Frank Sobey, chairman, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation.

On the hunt for a cure

Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia. Currently there’s estimated to be 30 million sufferers worldwide, and it’s predicated to afflict 1 in 85 people by 2050.   

Dr. Weaver, a pioneer in the field of computer-aided drug development, works with his research team using state-of-the-art computer-aided modelling to develop models of a protein called beta-amyloid, which has been implicated as a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

Specifically, when beta-amyloid clumps together, it becomes toxic to the brain, killing brain cells and leading to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s dementia. Dr. Weaver is using computer models to devise drugs that bind to amyloid in the brain, preventing it from clumping and thus blocking the brain damage associated with Alzheimer’s disease.  

His efforts have been celebrated with the Prix Galien (considered the Nobel Prize of pharmaceutical research) and the Jonas Salk Award, presented earlier this year from March of Dimes Canada.

Building on success

The gift from The Sobey Foundation is an opportunity to build on Dr. Weaver’s research to-date, providing stable annual funding to assist his team in its search for a cure.

“Endowed chairs offer a level of excellence, provide long-term financial stability, and supply a means of attracting and retaining the best doctors and researchers to our region,” said Tom Marrie, Dalhousie Medical School’s dean.

“We look forward to pursuing our studies in discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, and the funding associated with this chair will be a crucial and invaluable contribution to this effort,” said Dr. Weaver.

The Sobey Foundation’s $2 million gift to DMRF represents the first in a joint major gifts partnership between DMRF and Dalhousie. The donation brings the Sobey family’s contribution to Dalhousie's Bold Ambitions campaign up to $5 million in total.


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