Biomarker Research for Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Dementia Gets Greenlight Thanks to $3.8M Gift to UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute

Dr. Espay and the Gardner SistersCINCINNATI – Oct. 7, 2019 – A $3.8 million gift from the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Foundation will fund an innovative, 5,000-patient biomarker study for Parkinson’s disease and dementia treatment at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

The study, led by UC Professor of Neurology Alberto Espay, MD, will be the first aimed at defining patient groups based on molecular features rather than on symptoms. The theory is that neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s are each not one disease, but many, when considered from genetic and molecular perspectives—and that biomarker profiling will allow for early diagnosis and the development of disease-specific neuroprotective treatment for each molecular form.

“We are so thankful for the Gardner Family Foundation and their visionary support of our large-scale biomarker study,” said Espay, who serves as director and endowed chair at the Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders within the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.

“Our team believes the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease will be complete only when a biomarker profiling is capable of identifying the molecular subtypes of disease and suggesting a disease-modifying treatment to apply to a given patient. It is a revolutionary way of thinking about these diseases—as a symptom cluster of perhaps 20 or more unique biological diseases—and we are excited to identify them and get to work on finding effective treatments.”

The biomarker study will involve 4,000 patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases of brain aging, and 1,000 healthy, age-matched controls. The study will run at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute but plans to be inclusive and representative of the Cincinnati population. The study protocol evolved from discussions within the Executive Committee of the Parkinson Study Group, the largest not-for-profit scientific network of Parkinson centers in North America.

The Gardner Sisters“My father wanted to eradicate this disease for my mother,” said Peggy Johns, daughter of James and Joan Gardner. “We hope that findings from this study will shed light on the many causes of neurodegenerative diseases and bring us light-years forward in finding a cure or cures.”

“With the help of the Gardner family, the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute is setting the standard for neurologic research, treatment and education,” said UC President Neville G. Pinto. “Their pioneering support has helped make Cincinnati the destination for patients seeking next-level neurologic care, and we are forever grateful for them.”

In a given year, about 60,000 Americans will be diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement. An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

Experts from the Parkinson Study Group predict biomarker-guided preventative or disease-modifying treatment will delay or prevent Parkinson’s and cut health care costs by nearly 50 percent over five years, amounting to more than $6 billion in savings.

“With this innovative study, our researchers are redefining the medical community’s understanding of neurodegenerative disease,” said Andrew Filak, Jr., MD, interim senior vice president for health affairs and dean, UC College of Medicine. “We are grateful for the Gardner Family Foundation’s incredible support and hopeful that the resulting discoveries can provide more targeted treatment for patients suffering from Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

The contribution is the third major gift from the Gardner Family Foundation. In 2014, it gave a transformative $14 million gift to support the creation of a state-of-the-art clinical outpatient center which opened in April. In 2007, the foundation gave $5.5 million to create the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. The gift has since allowed the center to optimize the patient experience by creating a patient-centered culture.

The UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute is a collaboration of UC Health and the UC College of Medicine, and is the region’s leading treatment, research and teaching center for complex neurologic and psychiatric conditions.


About the University of Cincinnati Foundation
Established in 1975, the University of Cincinnati Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation and the private sector fundraising entity for the University of Cincinnati and UC Health. The Foundation supports UC’s aspirations through philanthropic collaboration with the colleges, the Academic Health Center, UC Health and other units to maximize private support. The Foundation’s advancement efforts promote the development of productive, enduring relationships with alumni, friends, colleagues, students, foundations, corporations and the Greater Cincinnati community. For more information, please visit



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