Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 66 seconds, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States, affecting one in nine over age 65. Currently, there is no treatment to prevent, cure, or even significantly slow the disease.
In an effort to research the disease and provide comprehensive care for Alzheimer’s patients, UT Health San Antonio established the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases. The first of its kind in South Texas, the institute is scheduled to open officially in December.
Dr. Sudha Seshadri will be the institute’s founding director and will assume her role on Dec. 1.
Since 2005, Seshadri has served as professor of neurology and attending neurologist at the Boston University School of Medicine, where she completed her medical residency and served as chief resident in neurology. Seshadri earned her medical degree from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi.
The medical school received applications for the director position from all over the country, UT Health San Antonio President Dr. William Henrich told the Rivard Report. But Seshadri’s broad experience in Alzheimer’s research, as well as her experience in direct patient care, made her the obvious choice.
“[Seshadri] is one of the leading researchers in the country on this problem,” Henrich said. “She will be a force here in San Antonio in setting up this Biggs Alzheimer’s Institute.”
Seshadri said she is looking forward to taking her research and patient experiences and applying them to what she calls a “grand vision” for Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative disease research at the Biggs Institute.
“What attracted me [to UT Health] was the passion and vision,” Seshadri said. “This city has raised $48 million in two years for an Alzheimer’s institution. There’s a passionate commitment here.”
The institute is supported by funds from leading local philanthropic foundations. including $3 million from the Greehey Family Foundation, $2 million from the Valero Energy Foundation, $1 million from the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, and $1 million from the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio. The J.M.R. Barker Foundation has made a $5 million pledge.
These organizations joined other donors whose support has totaled more than $23 million for endowments and more than $17 million in other gifts that will be used to advance the development of the institute’s mission, faculty, and programs.
The institute’s namesake, Glenn Biggs, was the founding development board chairman at UT Health San Antonio. Biggs, who died in 2015, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and struggled to find treatment. Henrich said that even though Biggs was close to the medical school community, it was difficult for him to find comprehensive care, and that served as inspiration for the medical school to start its own facility.
Seshadri said that Biggs’ story moved UT Health San Antonio to think about the bigger picture of Alzheimer’s care. When it comes to research and innovation, people “tend to think small,” she said.
“Because of the inspiration from [Biggs], Henrich had a grand vision that matched what I wanted to do,” Seshadri said. “The grandness of this vision makes the likelihood for success greater. You can’t just tinker at the edges of a problem like this.”
As founding director, Seshadri will oversee, integrate, and coordinate all activities of the Biggs Institute, which will share the space of UT Health’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.
By 2025, the number of Americans age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease is expected to reach 7.1 million, a 40% increase from this year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In Texas, the number of residents with the disease is projected to increase 48.5%, behind California and Florida.
San Antonio, which attracts a large number of retirees, especially from the military, has the potential to see an increase in Alzheimer’s diagnoses. Hispanics, who constitute a majority of the city’s population, are 1.5 times more likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias than non-Hispanic whites.
“Texas is lacking academic Alzheimer’s centers to match the extent of the burden,” Seshadri said.”It’s a Texas-sized problem, and [the Glenn Biggs Institute] is a good place to work at the solution.”
In addition to her title as founding director of the Biggs Institute, Seshadri will be appointed as professor of neurology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, with secondary appointments in the departments of psychiatry and cell and integrative physiology.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to start [a program],” Seshadri said, noting the support she has received from the medical school and San Antonio health care community, which she said gives her “no excuses.”
“I intend to work as hard as I possibly can.”