Your brain is a jungle of nerve cells — nearly 100 billion of them — connected by trillions of synaptic connections. At any given moment, it’s in charge of activities that extend from controlling breathing and walking, to processing visual signals, feelings and emotions, to solving problems and creating memories.
It’s a complex biological system, and when the system goes awry, the result can be disastrous to your health. A few days ago, however, UW Medicine received a $50 million gift from Lynn and Mike Garvey to establish the Garvey Institute for Brain Health Solutions at UW Medicine and to help change the landscape of brain health and care.
“The brain is the most complex organ we have, and there is so much potential to improve human health by keeping our brains healthy,” says Dr. Jürgen Unützer, the chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “The new institute will bring together scientists, patients, families and our community to help those struggling with brain disorders.”
Many of us face brain health challenges. In fact, more than 50 million Americans experienced a brain disorder in the last year.
“At some point, almost every family is affected by a brain health problem such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease or addiction,” says Lynn Garvey. “These diseases are so common and so devastating, and we wanted to do something to help.”
Unützer and his colleagues — representing multiple disciplines throughout UW Medicine — will use the new institute to focus, at first, on some of the most pressing, prevalent and costly conditions related to brain health: cognitive aging and dementias, the effects of emotional and physical trauma on the brain, and addiction. Through the institute, scientists hope to better understand what causes brain illnesses, why some brains are more resilient, and how to help patients and family members affected by serious brain health problems.
“Having the right treatment at the right time can be a lifesaver,” says attorney and entrepreneur Mike Garvey. “The Garvey Institute will work to make those treatments available to more people. I really can’t think of a better investment than that, and I hope that other investors will join us.”
The institute in action
With the Garveys’ gift, UW Medicine will recruit and retain eight expert faculty in topics ranging from technology, to trauma, to addiction. Some funds will be used to bring these experts together in a new, collaborative space, one that will contain an innovation clinic where patients and researchers can work together on new treatments. The Garveys’ contribution will also support the institute’s operations costs, such as hiring patient advocates, analyzing data, and training the next generation of brain health experts.
“I’m excited about the institute’s vision — how patients, families, doctors and researchers will come together to dream the dreams and set the goals for better brain health in our community,” says Lynn Garvey. “Where else would you find this kind of collaboration?”
The right partnership, the right time
The Garvey Institute for Brain Health Solutions is an integral part of UW Medicine’s larger plan for revolutionizing mental health care and improving brain health for our region and beyond. It joins other strong programs, including the new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Institute at Harborview Medical Center and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health’s existing initiatives in mental health.
It also joins a new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Teaching Facility, which has received an initial commitment of $33.25 million in state funding and is anticipated to be located at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. This is not coincidental.
“Lynn and I were impressed with the legislature’s commitment to funding UW Medicine’s work,” says Mike Garvey. “We took it as a timely sign that we should make our own contribution — helping to create a strong public-private partnership.”
The state, the Garveys and other contributors have chosen the ideal time to invest. Advances in genetics, brain imaging and other technology are allowing researchers to better prevent, detect and treat brain health problems early on. At the same time, society is coming to recognize that brain health is an important part of overall health.
“Ultimately, the Garvey Institute will help millions of people — not just in our own community, but around the world,” says Unützer. “I’m so grateful that Mike and Lynn are leading the way.”