Endowed chair set for amyloidosis and heart failure
$2 million funding plan by Foundation, Pitt and Caliguiri family. City’s Great Race program a major contributor.
PITTSBURGH, Oct. 5, 2016 – A Pittsburgh Foundation fund established nearly 30 years ago to honor Mayor Richard Caliguiri, one of the city’s most productive and beloved elected leaders, was planned as a funding pathway to find a cure for the disease that led to his death while in office.
Today, that vision has moved a significant step toward reality with the announcement of a new $2 million research effort at the University of Pittsburgh. An endowed chair position will oversee one of the most intensive investigative efforts in the country against amyloidosis, the condition that led to the mayor’s death in 1988 at age 56, and also extend to other diseases that lead to heart failure.
Pittsburgh Foundation President and CEO Maxwell King announced at a press conference today a funding partnership of the Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy, the Caliguiri family and University of Pittsburgh/UPMC officials to fully fund an endowed chair within the next several years.
Under the plan for this year, $460,000 from the Caliguiri Fund will be combined with a $275,000 grant from the Simeon M. and Katherine Reed Jones Fund at the Foundation for a total of $735,000 to begin building the research program devised by Dr. Mark Gladwin, chair of Pitt’s Department of Medicine. It will be housed in the Heart, Lung, Blood and Vascular Medicine Institute, a move expected to attract a national leader for the position. The annual grant-making budget of the combined funds ($70,000 to $80,000) will go to Pitt for the next several years until the total reaches $1 million. At that point, the University will contribute another $1 million to complete funding for the endowed chair, named in honor of Caliguiri.
Simultaneously, Dr. Gladwin will lead the search for a world-class scientific researcher specializing in amyloidosis and heart disease to become the first scientist appointed to the Richard S. Caliguiri Endowed Chair.
A steady funding source for the Caliguiri Fund has been the annual City of Pittsburgh Great Race created by Mayor Caliguiri as a 6.2-mile “fun run” in 1977. Registration has grown from 1,000 at the first race to a peak of 16,000 in 2014. One dollar of each runner’s fee goes to the fund each year. Since 1993, when a 5-K race was added and the entire event was re-named to honor the mayor, the race has raised more than $250,000 for the Caliguiri Fund.
“This is exactly why community-based philanthropy exists and why it is so popular with the public,” said King. “It begins with donors such as the Caliguiris, their friends and residents who wanted to do more than memorialize a loved one. They established a fund that would grow over time to support improved treatment for those with amyloidosis, and also spur research that would lead to a cure.” In the past year, King said, the donors worked with staff in the Center for Philanthropy, which led to a proposal from the Medical Center “that happens to be local and also happens to have a global reputation as being one of the best in the world for heart-related medical research.”
When the fund was established at the Foundation in 1988, general research into amyloidosis was thin. The disease process, which releases amyloid, an abnormal protein, can build up in the heart and other vital organs. The condition is relatively rare, causing the deaths of as many as 3,000 Americans each year. The expectation is that advancements in amyloidosis research may have greater applications to heart disease in general. Since 1988, there have been significant advances in knowledge of heart disease generally, and yet, about 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease every year – one in every 4 deaths – making it the leading cause of death for men and women.
In the years since her husband’s death, Jeanne Caliguiri had been committed to steering the fund to locally based research, but until this new proposal from the Foundation and the University, there had only been sporadic efforts with several researchers who eventually moved on to other research opportunities. “I know how Dick felt about Pittsburgh being known as a prominent center for medical research and I know how much he wanted to keep the money and research here in Pittsburgh,” she said.
“With this proposal, we’re able to take advantage of the advanced science, including better diagnosis and imaging of cardiac amyloids. This has given researchers in the field confidence that great progress can now be made. We’re also expecting that cutting-edge research into the disease will benefit investigation into causes of heart disease and heart failure generally,” Mrs. Caliguiri said. “I am so pleased that there is a strong philanthropic investment in Pittsburgh that promises great results.”
Under Dr. Gladwin’s plan, the endowed chair will be the engine fueling a dedicated research track to increase knowledge about amyloidosis and heart disease.
“We expect this program to substantially increase the knowledge base about amyloidosis specifically, and in the process, make gains in understanding heart disease generally,” said Gladwin. “We expect no less than to make a positive impact on at-risk individuals worldwide, while increasing the health care options available to residents throughout the region.”
While the burden of amyloidosis will continue to grow, Gladwin said, interest from the endowed chair will help to sustain and promote this work, providing more funding to translate findings into meaningful clinical care. “Despite a substantial increase of science knowledge in this area, we are facing a significant decrease in available research funds from the National Institutes of Health. That is why this local philanthropic funding is urgently needed and is key to continued progress.”
Referring to The Great Race funding base that has contributed to the creation of the endowed chair, Jim Griffin, the city’s director of Parks & Recreation, pointed to the event that Mayor Caliguiri described as a “fun run” continuing to be just that while also serving the greater purpose of eradicating life-threatening heart disease. “It’s all about the power of community to make positive change and the ability of individuals, philanthropy, medical science and government to make it happen,” he said. “It’s a great win for Pittsburgh and health care advancement.”
University of Pittsburgh officials expect to announce full funding of the endowed chair once final preparations are made. The search for the Richard S. Caliguiri Endowed Chair in Amyloidosis and Heart disease will soon commence with the launch of the clinical center later this year and continuing into early next year.
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Contact: Doug Root