Leadership gift aids innovative research at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute

MORGANTOWN — A leadership gift from the Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation will advance research at the WVU Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute (RNI) focused on early detection of dementia and innovative treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and addiction.

The funding supports clinical studies that advance promising research in the areas of digital health and advanced non-invasive brain therapeutics. Ali Rezai, M.D., leads the research effort as executive chair of the RNI.

“Dementia is a growing health crisis facing millions with no end in sight,” Dr. Rezai said. “We are very appreciative for the partnership and support of the Mangurian Foundation to accelerate research advances that are crucial for earlier detection and innovative treatments.”

Digital technologies for earlier detection of dementia

The RNI team is a world leader in pioneering the use of wearable technology, such as watches, wristbands, and rings; phone-based apps; and artificial intelligence to detect and predict health and wellness. RNI is using these tools to facilitate the detection and prediction of health issues for those with addiction, chronic pain, and stress and anxiety across multiple populations.

The Mangurian Foundation funding will support an RNI initiative using wearable technology, health apps, high-resolution optical coherence tomography imaging of the eye, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. Combined with artificial intelligence, the data will allow for earlier detection of vascular, Lewy body, and Alzheimer’s dementias. Earlier detection and diagnosis will offer patients a more personalized approach for lifestyle modification, earlier treatment, and participation in clinical trials.

Focused ultrasound treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and addiction

Two studies will expand the RNI’s advanced non-invasive brain therapeutics using focused ultrasound. Focused ultrasound is a non-surgical outpatient procedure that uses MRI as a therapeutic tool. In 2020, RNI researchers reported the first trial in the United States exploring the use of focused ultrasound to open the blood-brain barrier in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease patients.

With support from the Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation, the RNI will lead a first-in-the-world study combining focused ultrasound with monoclonal anti beta-amyloid antibody treatment to facilitate a targeted therapeutic delivery to specific areas in the brain. The antibodies treat the plaques that disrupt normal cell function in Alzheimer’s disease patients.

The RNI team is also exploring the use of neuromodulation with focused ultrasound to target the addiction center of the brain in those with opioid use disorder. The results of a four-patient pilot study completed last year were encouraging, demonstrating safety and reduced cravings. Researchers at RNI are now planning for a broader study involving 20 patients to further investigate the effectiveness of focused ultrasound to reduce cravings, anxiety, and drug use.

“We are pleased to support the RNI’s groundbreaking initiatives into digital technologies and ultrasound treatments for dementia patients,” Stephen Mehallis, president of the Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation, said. “Our familiarity with Dr. Rezai’s previous research and accomplishments in related neurological areas was a significant factor in continuing our relationship with him and the RNI.”

The Florida-based Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation has supported Rezai’s groundbreaking work for many years. The foundation was established by its namesake and his wife, Dorothy, who battled Lewy body dementia – a type of progressive dementia that affects thinking, movement, behavior and mood – for nearly 15 years. She passed away in 2015.

Harry Mangurian died of cancer in 2008. He established the foundation in 1999, after finding business success in a variety of industries, including aviation, home construction, professional sports and thoroughbred racing. The foundation continues to support education and research focused on neurology and neuroscience in Dorothy Mangurian’s memory.

The Harry T. Mangurian Jr. Foundation’s contribution was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.