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$2.5 million gift funds dementia research initiative

Donor Neil Manning, second from left, talks with UVic President Jamie Cassels, Island Health board chair Leah Hollins and Victoria Hospitals Foundation President Melanie Mahlman after Thursday’s announcement of the Cognitive Health Initiative.

A multi-million-dollar gift from a Victoria couple with a personal connection to cognitive health issues has launched a long-term initiative to close the gap between what researchers know about dementia and when that knowledge is brought into practice.

The $2.5 million gift from Neil and Susan Manning to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation will fund the Neil and Susan Manning Cognitive Health Initiative (CHI), a collaboration between the University of Victoria, Island Health and the University of BC to improve the diagnosis and treatment of dementia.

The unique five-year initiative is the first collaboration between UVic and Island Health funded by a private donation and the start of much bigger things to come, said those gathered at Royal Jubilee Hospital for the Oct. 5 announcement.

“We see this as an initiative, not a project. There’s no start-stop date,” said David Castle, UVic Vice-President Research, in a media scrum after the announcement. “This incredible gift has unlocked the potential for even larger initiatives.”

Susan Manning was diagnosed with dementia two years ago. Neil Manning said the family quickly realized that “while much work has been done in this area, there was still so much more to accomplish in order to solve the riddles surrounding cognitive health diseases.” The Mannings considered reaching out to other institutions across Canada, but then decided to look for opportunities closer to home. They contacted UVic’s Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health, and the seeds of the research collaboration took root.

The frustratingly long gap between when new research knowledge is available and when it’s put into practice soon became a focal point for the initiative. Once the framework of the CHI is in place in a year or so, medical professionals involved in dementia care will have the opportunity to be trained and start gathering consensual information from their patients that will allow research to be conducted during care delivery, Island Health board chair Leah Hollins told the audience attending the announcement.

“The information gathered will form the Dementia Guidance System – a real-time database that will track and cluster patient’s symptoms, treatment plans and outcomes,” said Hollins. “In time, this research will be available for use by family doctors to assist with early diagnosis.”

UVic President Jamie Cassels noted that UVic and Island Health have collaborated in the past, most recently to form the BC SUPPORT Vancouver Island Centre, one of five regional centres around BC established as part of Canada’s Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR). The Institute on Aging and Lifelong Health, a multidisciplinary research centre, will play a strong research leadership role in the Cognitive Health Initiative.

The initiative made possible by the Mannings’ generous donation “presents an exceptional opportunity to advance health research collaborations on Vancouver Island,” Cassels added.

Backgrounder on cognitive health research at UVic

Listen to David Castle, UVic Vice-President Research, talking to CFAX about the significance of this donation to launch the Cognitive Health Initiative:

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