Gift will be used to purchase imaging equipment to aid development of vaccine

A Wichita Falls couple has contributed $100,000 to support Alzheimer’s disease research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston that may lead eventually to a vaccine for the neurodegenerative disease. 

Vicki and James McCoy’s contribution will be used to purchase imaging equipment that will enable UTMB researchers to determine the effectiveness of treatments in combating Alzheimer’s disease. The X-ray module made possible by the McCoys’ gift will augment the scientists’ imaging system to help them witness how specially designed antibodies work in real time to attack proteins believed to cause the disease.

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. The Texas Department of State Health Services estimates 280,000 Texans have the illness.

Rakez Kayed, an assistant professor in UTMB’s Department of Neurology, is working with a team of fellow researchers in the university’s George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases to begin the early stages of developing the Alzheimer’s disease vaccine. The creator of an antibody that targets one of the proteins vital to the onset of the disease, Kayed said the X-ray imaging module will play a significant role in determining the antibody’s ability to locate the toxic proteins and remove them from the brain. “Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. McCoy’s generosity, we will be able to watch the antibodies actually working to target proteins in a natural setting,” he said. “This could offer undeniable proof that a vaccine for Alzheimer’s disease is possible.”

Dr. David L. Callender, UTMB president, said the McCoys’ support will help the university’s researchers develop an even better understanding of the illness and how to halt its progress. “This is a crucial step in eventually developing a vaccine to slow or even stop the crippling effects of Alzheimer’s disease,” Callender said. “I’m grateful to have the McCoys partner with us in such revolutionary research that could greatly improve the quality of life for the elderly.”

James McCoy is president of Echometer Co., a leading supplier of instruments, software and training to analyze and optimize the performance of oil and gas wells around the world. Headquartered in Wichita Falls, the company has been in business for more than 40 years.