By: Steve Orlando
UF and UF Health have received a $20 million gift from the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation that will be used to establish the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health, an institute focused on advancing research, technological innovation and clinical care for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy body, ALS, dystonia and concussions.
On Jan. 18, the Fixel family’s gift was announced. It will be matched dollar for dollar by UF: The total $40 million funding package will catalyze a $100 million capital campaign to provide additional resources for scientists and doctors working to advance treatments of neurological disorders at the institute.
“We have amazing faculty dedicated to Parkinson’s and other neurologic diseases. One of the primary goals of this gift is to attract additional world-class physicians, scientists and academicians who together can make an even bigger impact,” said Michael S. Okun, M.D., a professor and chair of the department of neurology and executive director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health.
Okun said initial plans are to recruit an additional five faculty members, along with their related programs, all focused on neurodegenerative diseases. In addition, the newly created Fixel Scholars Endowment will be used to support fellowship and postdoctoral researchers, all with a primary focus on Parkinson’s.
“UF Health has made major investments that support neurodegenerative disease research. This gift enables UF to rapidly double down in the area of Parkinson’s disease,” said Todd Golde, M.D., executive director of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of UF.
“Given similarities between Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, these new recruits will enhance and complement our strong existing research programs in Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, dystonia, brain injury and brain aging,” Golde said.
The Fixels’ commitment to UF Health is in addition to prior contributions of more than $4 million to a clinical care building under construction in Gainesville that will house the newly created institute. In recognition of their generosity, the UF Board of Trustees in December renamed the Fixel Center for Neurological Diseases to the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health in honor of Lee’s father, Norman, who earned a UF bachelor’s degree in business in 1975. Lauren is also a UF graduate, with a 2007 bachelor’s degree in journalism.
“As people live longer, Parkinson’s disease is rapidly becoming a critical health issue, with more than 1 million Americans expected to be living with the disease by next year. We believe it is essential to invest in innovative research to develop groundbreaking treatments with the goal of curbing this debilitating illness,” said Lee Fixel. “We hope that our gift, along with extensive efforts at UF, will cement UF Health’s position as the preeminent destination for patient care, research and technological innovation for neurodegenerative diseases.”
This new initiative caps off a decade of impressive growth in UF Health’s neuromedicine research which, with NIH funding now approaching $50 million per year, has become a centerpiece of UF Health’s research portfolio. Together, numerous colleges, departments, centers and institutes work collaboratively to advance patient care, research and education missions. The Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases will further accelerate the efforts of these scientists and clinicians at UF Health.
UF Health physicians are conducting a range of leading-edge treatments, such as deep brain stimulation and gene therapy, which are transforming patient care. Fixel Institute scientists and physicians will seek to translate research discoveries in neurological diseases into new therapies that improve quality of life for patients and forever change how these conditions are treated.
The Fixels’ gift boosts the university’s new “Platform for Life” initiative to strategically use UF’s wide-ranging academic and research prowess to enhance the well-being of people throughout their lives. As one of just a handful of global comprehensive universities — with disciplines in medicine, law, business, agriculture, engineering, the arts and almost every other area of interest and impact — UF is well-positioned to address 21st century challenges.
“UF is home to one of the leading institutes for Parkinson’s disease treatment and clinical research,” said Kelly D. Foote, M.D., a professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health. “Over the years, we have become convinced that it is the strength of our collaborative, interdisciplinary teams that enables us to deliver the highest quality of care for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders and to develop better therapies for these complex neurological disorders. This gift will be transformative and highly impactful for patients and families seeking better treatments and more meaningful lives.”
UF President Kent Fuchs said the Fixels’ gift will be pivotal in raising UF’s stature as a global leader in neurodegenerative disorder research.
“This generous gift from the Fixels will be a tremendous boost to our ability to address the neurological diseases and disorders that affect far too many people,” Fuchs said. “The Fixels’ investment means those who suffer from those conditions will soon have hope for leading healthier and happier lives.”
Foote looks forward to the progress that lies ahead as a result of the Fixels’ gift. “UF Health is truly on the threshold of discovering the innermost workings of the brain and how we can correct problems when they occur. With the Fixels’ investment, we will forever change how neurological diseases and movement disorders are treated,” Foote said.
Ed Jimenez, UF Health Shands CEO, expressed his appreciation for the Fixels’ gift.
“I’ve personally witnessed Lauren and Lee’s passion for advancing science to treat Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases. Their gift will create amazing momentum to fuel scientific discoveries and new approaches to help patients everywhere,” Jimenez said. “Ultimately, their commitment to make a difference will offer hope and an improved quality of life for individuals and families facing these debilitating conditions in the years to come.”
Lee Fixel is a partner with the investment firm Tiger Global Management, where he leads the private equity business. Lauren Fixel, who grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, is the co-chair of the Young Manhattan Women’s division at UJA-Federation of New York and plays an active role leading the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation.