The Cullen Trust for Health Care has committed $1 million to support researchers at UTMB Health who are in the initial stages of developing vaccines for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Vaccines would revolutionize treatment and prevention of these chronic neurodegenerative diseases, which currently afflict millions of people in the United States.

Dr. George R. Jackson, director of UTMB’s George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, is working with a team of scientists to develop the vaccines. The group is studying specially designed antibodies that attack proteins believed to cause the disorders.
“I appreciate The Cullen Trust for Health Care’s generous support for our research,” Jackson said. “This commitment represents an exceptional vote of confidence in the promise the studies hold for one day curbing or preventing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”
Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, age-related brain disorder that gradually leads to behavioral and personality changes, memory loss and impaired thinking abilities. The disease, which typically appears in about 10 percent of people over the age of 65 and in 50 percent of those over 85, causes the breakdown of nerve cell connections in the brain and the eventual death of those cells. The course of the disease and the rate of decline vary among individuals. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, as many as 5.3 million people in the United States currently have the disease, and 11.3 million to 16 million are projected to be diagnosed by 2050.
Parkinson’s disease is an incurable disorder that impairs the brain’s ability to control smooth, coordinated muscle movement and may lead to difficulty in talking, walking or completing other tasks. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, approximately 1 million people in the United States have the disease, with 50,000 to 60,000 new cases diagnosed annually.
Dr. David L. Callender, UTMB president, said the Cullen Trust’s support has enabled the university’s researchers to continue their promising work to prevent or greatly reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. “I’m grateful to The Cullen Trust for Health Care for helping us give hope to those with these and other neurodegenerative diseases, that they may live fuller lives unimpeded by their illness,” Callender said.
In addition to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease research, the Cullen Trust has supported UTMB Health by helping establish the university’s first breast imaging fellowship program. The program benefits radiologists seeking specialty training in breast cancer screening and diagnosis.
The Cullen Trust also contributed to a collaborative telemedicine program between UTMB Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to provide health care to medically underserved populations. Telemedicine technology allows health care professionals to communicate with, examine and offer treatment suggestions to a patient hundreds or even thousands of miles away.