The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
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Dr. James Goodwin holds the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Geriatric Medicine. The endowed faculty position supports research and education at UTMB’s Sealy Center on Aging, where Dr. Goodwin serves as Director.

Ensuring the ‘Golden Years’ Live up to Their Name: Cynthia and George Mitchell Contribute More Than $10 Million to Spur Progress in Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UTMB

Today, Americans are living longer than ever before. But with longer life comes a challenge. How can we ensure that longer lives are better lives—times of health and well-being? The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston is embracing that challenge with renowned longevity research programs.

The success of these programs harkens back to a pivotal contribution. In 1984, famed Texas oilman and real estate developer George Mitchell and his wife, Cynthia, hosted a gala to celebrate the opening of The San Luis Hotel in Galveston. The Mitchells dedicated the $250,000 proceeds to help establish what would become a nationally acclaimed geriatrics program at Texas’ oldest academic health center.

By 1995, the geriatrics program was recognized as one of UTMB’s prestigious Sealy Centers for Excellence. The Sealy Center on Aging anchors the University’s efforts in the field and features research that includes the study of muscle function and the impact of neurodegenerative conditions on aging.

“Geriatric medicine is such an important necessity for Galveston,” said George Mitchell, who was born and raised on the island. “The elderly population is significant here since Galveston has become a retirement destination for people from throughout the United States.”

In 2001, through the Mitchells’ generosity, the University created the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Geriatric Medicine, which is invested in the Long Term Fund. The endowed position, held by Dr. James S. Goodwin, supports ongoing research and education at the Sealy Center on Aging. Goodwin is the center’s director.

Wanting to do more, the Mitchells made a significant contribution, half of which was endowed, to support research involving Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. Thanks to the George and Cynthia Mitchell Research Program in Alzheimer’s Disease, UTMB was able to recruit Dr. Claudio Soto, an internationally recognized authority on protein misfolding disorders. Soto joined UTMB in 2003 to lead the University’s fledgling research program in Alzheimer’s disease.

Impressed by Soto and his plans to fight the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s disease through research and drug development, the Mitchells made an additional commitment in 2004 to establish the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at UTMB. The center is directed by Soto and dedicated to developing diagnostic techniques for earlier detection of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as designing more effective treatments and preventive tools. The following year, the Mitchells supported the creation of the Drug Discovery and Development Program within the Mitchell Center. UTMB officials used the Mitchells’ contribution to remodel space to accommodate new laboratories reserved for computer-aided drug design, pharmacological evaluation, and high-throughput screening, an assessment tool that accelerates researchers’ ability to determine which drug designs will work best at fighting neurodegenerative diseases. The contribution funded laboratory equipment, software and supplies, as well as helped recruit faculty and research personnel for the laboratories.

The Mitchells recently made an additional contribution in continued support of the Mitchell Center’s activities. Now, just five years after their initial investment in the program, 17 groups of more than 80 researchers are devoted to studying Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative disorders at UTMB. The Mitchells’ generosity has leveraged six new National Institute of Health grants and eight foundation grants totaling many more millions of dollars that have been invested to support this research. In particular, Soto and his colleagues are now working on a comprehensive NIH project that explores how to attack Alzheimer’s disease at various stages of its formation, including how to replace damaged neurons, prevent neuronal death, and inhibit or reverse the disease’s development.
Cynthia & George Mitchell