UMMC Among Top 10 Medical Schools to See Increase in Research Funding

Lab manager Zannel Blanchard, front, assists in the translational research of Dr. Wael ElShamy, associate professor of biochemistry, back. Research at UMMC continues to draw in more federal funding, putting the Medical Center among the top 10 in the nation to see an increase in funding from National Institutes of Health this year.

Lab manager Zannel Blanchard, front, assists in the translational research of Dr. Wael ElShamy, associate professor of biochemistry, back. Research at UMMC continues to draw in more federal funding, putting the Medical Center among the top 10 in the nation to see an increase in funding from National Institutes of Health this year.

JACKSON, Miss. – During one of the most competitive times to access funding from one of the nation’s largest research sponsors, the University of Mississippi Medical Center has received more awards and more money than the previous year.

The National Institutes of Health, the primary federal agency for biomedical and health-related research, has been forced to become more selective in distributing its awards over the last few years, a product of cost-cutting among government agencies.

But in that same time, UMMC has managed to pull in more funding for its extensive research projects, nearly $42 million this fiscal year, a feat placing the university among the top 10 in the nation for increased percentage of NIH funding. During the last fiscal year, NIH-funded projects at UMMC stood at $23.1 million.

“We are very proud that our NIH funding is on the rise. It gives us incredible prestige and credibility in the academic community to have that source of funding, and we are going to look forward to doing that further every year,” said Dr. Richard Summers, associate vice chancellor for research at UMMC. “It’s a real challenge because it’s a pretty hard and competitive point right now.”

Overall, UMMC received more than $52.1 million this year for research from multiple funding sources, representing an 83 percent increase in research funding from last year.

“This success comes from the hard work of the individual researchers at our institution,” said Summers.

Researchers such as Dr. John Hall, chair of the department of physiology and biophysics and the lead investigator in UMMC’s Mississippi Center for Obesity Research, continue to draw in NIH funding because of the magnitude and potential global impact of his studies.

“We were fortunate to receive two major NIH grants this past year,” said Hall, citing an $11.4 million and a $10.3 million grant, both over a five-year period that will continue his team’s research into obesity and cardiovascular and kidney diseases.

The second grant comes from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a component of NIH, and is a continuation of a program project grant for cardiovascular studies that has been funded at UMMC for 45 years, said Hall.

Dr. Thomas Mosley, a UMMC professor of geriatrics and lead researcher at the MIND Center, has pulled in funding from many sources thanks to his research into Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’ve been successful and lucky in some ways. We’ve certainly worked hard and we’ve tried to be very strategic about the institutes where we seek funding,” said Mosley. “Specifically, we try to closely match the institute’s priorities.”

Mosley said because cohort-studies like his are expensive to run, it’s become increasingly important to cultivate buy-in from multiple institutes within NIH.

“So instead of going to just one institute and saying we need a whole lot of support to get this study done, we look for ways to work across institutes and get multiple partners involved,” said Mosley.

The tightening of the purse strings at NIH also has prompted the MIND Center to identify alternative funding sources, said Denise Lafferty, chief of operations at the center.

“The compound effect comes into play, and one result impacts the other; the NIH funding helped us to get state funding and the state funding and private support can help us get more NIH funding,” said Lafferty.

During 2013, Mississippi allocated $3 million to the MIND Center, marking the first time for state funding at the center, she said.

The federal and private funding – for which the MIND Center has raised more than $10 million – encouraged state leaders to pay attention, Lafferty said.

The funding from the state and private entities is helping pay for infrastructure projects, which also is critical in gaining NIH funding, said Lafferty.  “If you don’t have the staff and equipment to be able to prove you can really deliver the results of the grant, then they are less likely to give you the funding.”

Even as the future of research funding means finding alternative strategies to obtain it, UMMC and its researchers remain committed to the cause, said Summers.

“It’s always important to remember that the point of the research mission is not to get grants,” said Summers. “That’s very important as the fuel for funding the research mission, but the point of the research mission is the discovery itself and the discovery in the context of helping the health care of Mississippians. That’s the real main goal.

“As long as we have our eyes on the prize of discovery and improving the health care of Mississippians, that’s really what we want to do.”

By the numbers

FY 2014 – $52,185,653 in research funding
FY 2013 – $28,488,789 in research funding

FY 2014 – $41,995,434 in NIH funding
FY 2013 – $23,137,306 in NIH funding

FY 2014 – 127 awards
FY 2013 – 119 awards

Diabetic No More: UMMC Patient Gets State’s First Isolated Pancreas Transplant

Nancy Smith and famiily

Nancy Smith with daughter Braeden and son Carruth

JACKSON, Miss. – Ask brittle diabetic Nancy Smith why she opted for a pancreas transplant, a rare procedure not without risk or potentially devastating complications, and she’ll tell you about her heart.

There’s her son Carruth, an 18-year-old high school senior. There’s daughter Braeden, 23, a college graduate and preschool teacher.

“They’re amazing,” the Jackson resident says of her children. Carruth copes with the challenges of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and a rare neuropsychiatric disorder associated with strep infections.

“They made the decision easy. I want to watch them continue to grow, and to be around for all the major life events to come,” Smith said. “He needs me, and so does she. Nobody is like a mama.”

On Sept. 30, Smith became the first person in the state to receive an isolated pancreas transplant at the University of Mississippi Medical Center – not the more medically common combination of a pancreas and kidney, but a pancreas alone.  “It’s an incredibly rare procedure,” said Dr. Mark Earl, an assistant professor of surgery at UMMC, who performed the transplant and whose expertise includes all aspects of liver and pancreas surgery and transplant.

“It’s especially rare for someone who has no kidney failure, but has other life-threatening complications from type 1 diabetes,” Earl said. And, he said, the surgery marks the 10th transplant of a pancreas at UMMC this year, putting its transplant program on par with other acclaimed programs in the Southeast.

Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, 52-year-old Smith said she and her doctors knew it would be a matter of time before she’d need a transplant. She lost sight in one eye. Her neuropathy was worsening. Quality of life was waning.

Because Smith’s pancreas wasn’t producing the hormone insulin and couldn’t regulate her blood sugar levels, her blood sugar was unpredictable and would drop without warning, causing her to pass out.  “Low blood sugar can be immediately life threatening. You pass out, and if it doesn’t come back up, you can die,” Earl said.

“Because Nancy is a Type 1 diabetic, the insulin-producing cells in her pancreas had been killed by her own immune system,” Earl said.

During a three-hour operation, Earl left her native pancreas alone; it worked well except for that one potentially fatal flaw. The donated pancreas he positioned into her abdomen produces crucial insulin, which stimulates cells to absorb sugar from the blood.

Before the surgery, Smith had tried to do all the right things:  Frequently exercise. Watch her diet and weight. Pray. Try not to fret about the future.

“If I could stay calm and not worry about things as much, that would help,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t exercise like I do.”

But as her health continued to deteriorate, Smith in July 2013 secured a place on the transplant waiting list at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. It was right before UMMC’s transplant program began performing pancreas-kidney procedures.

“They had to take me off the waiting list at Ochsner because I couldn’t find anyone who could go to New Orleans and stay there three months with me,” Smith said.

The timing could not have been better.

“It was ironic,” said Smith’s sister-in-law, Terri Gillespie of Jackson, who happens to be UMMC’s chief nursing executive officer. “She came over to the house and said she wished UMMC would get approval for a pancreas transplant. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh. That happened yesterday! ‘ ”

In January, Smith met with Dr. Kenneth Kokko, an associate professor of nephrology and member of UMMC’s transplant team. “Dr. Earl came in, and he said, ‘You’re going to be the first person to receive a pancreas transplant, and if there was any person who needed a pancreas transplant, you’re it,” Smith remembered.

On Sept. 24, Earl called her:  A donor pancreas had been located. She grabbed the bag that had been packed for months and headed to UMMC, only to find out that the pancreas wasn’t viable for transplant. “We got back into the car, and Nancy said, ‘I feel like I had Braxton-Hicks contractions and I went to the hospital to have a baby, and I got sent back home,’ ” said her sister, Janie Robbins of Ridgeland.

“Carruth was so sad when I came back home,” Smith said. “He didn’t say a word. He just put his head on my shoulder. Braeden was bummed, but positive that all things happen for a reason.”

Just days later, Earl summoned Smith again with news of a potential pancreas. She hurried back to UMMC, donned a hospital gown, and counted down the hours before surgery in a patient room, Gillespie and Robbins at her side.

Earl stood at her bedside and detailed the risks:  There would be a 30 percent chance she’d have to go back into surgery the first week. There was a 10 percent chance the blood supply to the new pancreas could become blocked during the first six weeks.

“There’s about a 20 percent chance of rejection, but in the overwhelming majority of folks, the transplanted pancreas lasts a long time and they are done taking insulin injections,” Earl told her.

“I’m the overwhelming majority!” Smith told him.

As Smith, Gillespie and Robbins waited for word from Earl on the pancreas’ viability, they shared a laugh over memories of Smith owning a cupcake store in the face of diabetes. And, they somberly contemplated the fact that because someone died, Smith could have a better and longer life.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Robbins said. “You know someone’s going to be giving us the greatest gift.”

“If I can just have five more years ….” Smith said, willing back her tears. “I just need a little more time.”

When they thought a transplant was imminent a week earlier, Gillespie said, “I felt elation, and then did a lot of praying.

“Often times with a transplant, if it’s an unexpected death, it gives a donor family a feeling of closure – that it wasn’t all for nothing,” said Gillespie, who spent many years as an emergency room and recovery nurse.

Earl sent Smith home just five days after she got her new pancreas.

“Everything’s a miracle,” said Smith, who wants to help people understand the importance of organ donation. “When I woke up from surgery, I didn’t have diabetes. Now I can see shapes and some other things out of my right eye. I’ve never had this many normal blood sugars this many days in a row.

“I cannot imagine having anyone else in charge,” she said of Earl. “He has given me quality of life back.”

Said Earl: “She’s not just recovering from surgery. She’s recovering from years of diabetes. But with her energy level and the rate she is recovering, we’re going to have to slow her down, rather than tell her she needs to get moving and start living life.”

He and his staff are watching Smith carefully, taking frequent bloodwork and making sure she regularly checks her blood sugar. “That is one of our best markers for pancreatic function,” he said.

As Smith’s recovery continues, Earl said, so does her prospect of a long and healthy life.

“I want her to get 20 more years completely free of diabetes. That’s the whole point. If this wasn’t the point, it wouldn’t be worth the risk,” he said.

“My hope is that she goes on to die of something else as a very old lady.”

Rebel Hoops Opens Fall Practice

Ole Miss boasts SEC-best five seniors

Ole Miss Men's Basketball vs Missouri on Saturday, February 8th, 2014 at the C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford, MS.

Ole Miss men’s basketball vs. Missouri on Feb. 8, 2014 at the C.M. Tad Smith Coliseum.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Ole Miss basketball squad opened fall practice Friday at the team’s practice facility at the Tuohy Center.

Although this marked the Ole Miss’ first official practice of the season, the Rebels have worked together much of the off season, including individual work and the team’s trip to the Bahamas in August.

Head coach Andy Kennedy, the all-time winningest coach in school history, noted the team’s extra work is already paying dividends

“We’re so far ahead based on what we had the opportunity to experience in the Bahamas,” Kennedy said. “We have been with this team for 10 practices in July and August, and then we had two games in the Bahamas, so I feel much further along with this group.

“We already put in some of our baseline stuff so that we can start to make adjustments based on what we saw this summer. Our foundation is pretty much set. Now, we’re building off that based on the skill set of our players.”

The Rebels boast one of the most experienced teams in the SEC, with a league-high five seniors led by returning All-SEC performer Jarvis Summers. Summers is the SEC active career leader with 1,233 career points and 370 assists.

“This is the most-experienced team I have coached at Ole Miss, where nine of our 13 scholarship players are upperclassmen. I’m pleased with where we are and the prospects of this team.”

Ole Miss also added five newcomers to this year’s squad, highlighted by a pair of fifth-year transfers in M.J. Rhett and Terence Smith. A presence in the low post, Rhett ranked 18th in the nation last year with nine double-doubles at Tennessee State, while Smith was a career 1,000-point scorer and 40 percent 3-point shooter (101-253) at Tennessee-Martin, and averaged 14.6 points a game last year for the Skyhawks.

Stephan Moody, a junior college transfer, also joins the Rebels after being named the Sunbelt Conference Freshman of the Year at Florida Atlantic University, where he averaged 15.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

Ole Miss tips off the 2014-15 season Nov. 14 with Charleston Southern and will play a nonconference slate that includes Cincinnati, Creighton, Dayton, Oregon and Western Kentucky. The Rebels open the conference play Jan. 6 on the road at Kentucky.

Clarion-Ledger: Mississippi Soldier Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

JACKSON, Miss. – When Army Reserve Sgt. Randy Sandifer of Pinola deployed to Iraq as a sophomore at Ole Miss, he didn’t realize he was on a journey that would take him not only overseas, but eventually would tie his name to one of the most prestigious honors in the world.

Sandifer, now 30 and a ballistics expert at the Army Crime Lab in Atlanta, is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for research he did while stationed at Abu Ghraib prison — research that ultimately would lead to the closure of the controversial facility.

Read the full story here.

Rebels Wrap Up Play at Jerry Pate Intercollegiate

Wolcott Has Third Top-20 Finish of Season

Wolcott

Wolcott

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. – Sophomore Ben Wolcott fired a final round even par 70 to finish in a tie for 11th at the Jerry Pate Intercollegiate on Tuesday, notching his third top 20 of the young season.

Wolcott had a three-day total of 211 to just miss the top 10. His 67 in the second round set up the notable finish. Wolcott’s four birdies on the back nine allowed him to recover and finish even on the round.

“It was a very disappointing day,” head coach Chris Malloy said. “Fortunately, we have some time before our next event to get back and work on our weaknesses. I know that we are a much better team than we showed this week. These guys are ready to put in the hard work that it takes to get better. I am looking forward to these next couple of weeks. Ben has shown that he is really starting to develop into a great player. He has been very consistent this fall.”

The Rebels finished in a tie for 10th with Georgia State and UT-San Antonio after a team total of 293 in the final round gave them a three-round total of 873. Tournament host Alabama won the event with a 10-under 830.

Noah West finished in a tie for 38th following a final round 75, while Blake Morris and Joe Lewis finished in a tie for 50th and a tie for 53rd, respectively. Lewis had three birdies on the back nine for a final round 70.

Follow the Rebels all season on Twitter at @OleMissMGolf, on Instagram at OleMissMGolf and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OleMissMGolf.

Offense Rebounds in Week Three of Ole Miss Baseball Fall Practices

Rebels hit five home runs in Week Three scrimmages

Ole Miss Baseball vs Arkansas on Friday, May 23rd, 2014 at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, AL.

Ole Miss baseball vs. Arkansas on May 23, 2014 at the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

OXFORD, Miss. – One week after the pitching staff got the best of the Ole Miss baseball team, the bats broke out in week three of the Rebels’ fall intrasquad scrimmages, as five total home runs and another five doubles were hit Friday and Sunday.

“I like how the offense bounced back from last week,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “They certainly showed a great approach at the plate and some nice power as well.”

On Friday, the Rebels received home runs from sophomore Colby Bortles, freshman Kyle Watson and senior Sikes Orvis. Then on Sunday, Bortles hit another home run and sophomore J.B. Woodman left the yard. In the first three weeks combined, Bortles and Watson each have hit three home runs, and Orvis has hit two.

Junior Matt Martin went 3-3 with two runs on Friday, while Bortles, junior Cameron Dishon, sophomore Henri Lartigue, freshman Will Golsan, Orvis and Watson each had two hits. Orvis and Watson led the team with three runs scored each.

In a much more balanced affair Sunday, only Bortles and freshmen Michael Fitzsimmons and Joe Wainhouse had multi-hit games. Junior southpaw Christian Trent threw 3.0 innings, striking out four while allowing three hits and one run. Freshman right-handed pitcher Will Stokes went 3.0 innings without allowing an earned run and struck out four as well. Sophomore left-handed pitcher Wyatt Short didn’t allow a run in 3.0 innings of action and struck out four, while sophomore right-hander Brady Bramlett fanned seven batters in 3.0 innings of work, and gave up two runs.

Ole Miss will continue its fall schedule Friday and Saturday with two more intrasquad scrimmages. Friday’s scrimmage will begin at 2:30 p.m., while Saturday’s scrimmage is scheduled for 12:10 p.m. All scrimmages are open to the public free of charge.

Season Tickets on Sale

The Ole Miss Ticket Office is accepting season ticket renewals and new season ticket orders for the 2015 Ole Miss baseball season. Fans may purchase single-game tickets beginning in February.

For more information on Ole Miss baseball tickets, please contact the ticket office at 662-915-7167, or go to OleMissTix.com.

2015 Season Tickets
$150 – Reserved Seating
$100 – General Admission

2015 Single-Game Tickets
General Admission, Youth and Seniors:
$10 – Conference Games
$5 – Non-Conference Games
* Children under 12 months are admitted free of charge.

For more information on Ole Miss baseball, follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissBSB, on Facebook at Ole Miss Baseball and on Instagram at olemissbsb.

Another Freshman Rebel Honored

Taylor Alexander named SEC Freshman of the Week

Ole Miss Volleyball vs Missouri on October 1st, 2014 at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford, MS.

Ole Miss volleyball vs. Missouri on Oct. 1, 2014 at the Gillom Sports Center in Oxford.

OXFORD, Miss. — For the second time this season, an Ole Miss volleyball player was recognized as the SEC Freshman of the Week. Taylor Alexander (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana) received that honor after her performance in helping lead the Rebels to a 3-0 win over defending SEC Champion Missouri.

The 6-4 freshman went on a tear in just her third start, racking up a career-high eight blocks, to lead the defensive attack against Missouri. Four of those blocks came in an incredible 9-1 run to close out the second set 25-23 after the Rebels trailed 22-16.

The Rebels’ win over the Tigers marked the first conference loss for the defending SEC champs since 2012, snapping a 20-game SEC win streak.

Ole Miss has had a player honored by the SEC in four of the first six weeks of the season.

Next on the schedule for the Rebels is a trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for a matchup with the University of Arkansas at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

For more information on Ole Miss volleyball, follow the Rebels on Twitter at @OleMissVB, on Facebook at OleMissVolleyball and on Instagram at OleMissVB.

Euphoria: Ole Miss Tops No. 1 Alabama 23-17

Rebels Notch Win Over Top-Ranked Team for First Time in Program History

Students storm the field following a 23-17 victory over the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

Students storm the field following a 23-17 victory over the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.

OXFORD, Miss. – There are times in people’s lives when they will say to themselves, ‘I will never forget this moment.’ For the 61,826 fans that packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on a beautiful, cool, fall afternoon, No. 11 Ole Miss’ thrilling 23-17 victory over No. 1 Alabama was a moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

On one of the biggest weekends in Ole Miss football history, the Rebels’ impressive defense stood tall once again, and the offense rallied and took advantage of opportune turnovers to top the Crimson Tide. It was the first win over a top-ranked team in program history, and it was the Rebels’ first win over Alabama (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) since 2003.

“I’m just so proud of our young men,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “You can’t lose a game in 30 or 45 minutes. You have to play for 60 minutes and that is something we’ve preached since we’ve been here. … At the end of the day, you get in this job to mentor young men, first. I preach that to our staff. I have the best staff of men that you want your kids around. These are great life lessons. Sometimes you’re on the other side of it and it stings and hurts. We’ve had our share of those. We have tremendous respect for Coach (Nick) Saban and Alabama. It’s a huge win for our program and our fans. It’s been a tremendous day.”

A weekend that began with Ole Miss’ (5-0, 2-0 SEC) first appearance on ESPN’s popular pregame show “College GameDay,” was closed out in style by outscoring Alabama 20-3 in the second half to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1962, and send thousands of the Rebel faithful onto the Hollingsworth Field in euphoria.

The Ole Miss defense’s first string allowed its first touchdown of the season Saturday, but not much else, despite facing an opponent that entered the game averaging 42.0 points. The Rebels held Alabama to 3.8 yards a carry, which is nearly two yards fewer than its season average. The opportune Landshark Defense also created two turnovers, one of which the Rebels ultimately won the game on, and the other effectively ended the game as senior Senquez Golson picked off Alabama quarterback Blake Sims with 37 seconds left in the game.

Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace went 18-31 for 251 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers. The oft-critiqued senior from Pulaski, Tennessee, showed his moxie late in the game, completing each of his final three pass attempts for 57 yards and two touchdowns.

“Sometimes these kids take way more criticism than they deserve,” Freeze said. “I don’t know that they get the equal treatment on the other side of it. … In the second half, he made some big-time plays. He just played so solid. On that last touchdown, that ball was right where it needed to be for us. Who knows what the next week holds, but tonight, Bo led his team to defeat the No. 1 team in the country. He deserves credit for being a big part of that.”

Trailing 14-3 at the half, Ole Miss faced an uphill battle, as Alabama was 77-4 under Saban when leading at halftime.

After holding the Crimson Tide scoreless on their opening drive of the second half, the Rebels put together a four-play 66-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 50-yard pass from Wallace to sophomore tight end Evan Engram, and a 14-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to cut the Rebels’ deficit to four at 14-10. The two sophomores finished with 126 combined yards receiving, with Engram logging a team-high 71 yards on three catches.

After a 44-yard Alabama field goal with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter, Ole Miss tied the game with 5:29 remaining in the fourth quarter when Wallace found senior wide receiver Vince Sanders down the middle for a 34-yard score.

On the ensuing kickoff, Ole Miss junior Channing Ward stripped the ball from Alabama’s Christion Jones, and sophomore Kailo Moore recovered the ball at the Alabama 31-yard line to put the Rebels in position to make history.

Ole Miss took advantage of the turnover with a five-play scoring drive capped off by a 10-yard pass from Wallace to junior running back Jaylen Walton to give the Rebels the lead.

Leading by six points but facing an Alabama offense that was driving, the Ole Miss defense rose to the occasion once more as Golson picked off Sims in the back of the end zone to seal the victory.

“I tried to run him off when I first got here,” said Freeze of Golson. “I didn’t think he would ever make it in this program. He was not bought-in. He didn’t understand how to work and he didn’t want to be great. Now, you have a guy who stands on the podium in the locker room and says, ‘Hey guys, it’s a great win. Protect this team.’ He’s not only saying it, but he’s doing it.”

Those are memories that will last a lifetime.

NewsMS: Gov. William Winter Documentary to Premier on Mississippi Public Broadcasting

JACKSON, Miss. – Parents were not always able to send their kids to public kindergarten in Mississippi. That all changed after a successful political battle for education reform lead by former Governor William Winter in the 1980s. The story is revisited in the Southern Documentary Project’s film The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi.

The film premiers Thursday, October 2 at 8pm on Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Read the full story.

$1 Million Donation Lifts UMMC’S MIND Center Above Fundraising Goal

School of Medicine Entrance

School of Medicine Entrance

JACKSON, Miss. – Jackson businessman John N. Palmer has donated $1 million to the MIND Center, a University of Mississippi Medical Center institution dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s disease.

Palmer, the chairman and founder of GulfSouth Capital Inc., a Jackson-based private investment firm, presented the gift to the Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia Research Center, which is committed to finding treatments and a cure for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The gift from the telecommunications pioneer and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal pushed donations to the MIND Center above the $10 million mark – a goal set in 2010, the year it opened at UMMC.

”I am convinced that continued support from the private sector will help our UMMC researchers find effective treatments for this disease,” Palmer said.

Although his contribution is earmarked for the MIND Center, Palmer channeled it through the recently launched Manning Family Fund for a Healthier Mississippi, a fund-raising campaign committed to battling a variety of health issues in the state.

The donor-supported program is a partnership between the Medical Center and the state’s First Family of Football, led by Ole Miss sports legend Archie and his wife Olivia Manning.

“I thought the Mannings’ program was a fantastic idea when I first heard about it,” said Palmer, 80, a Corinth native who attended Ole Miss on a basketball scholarship in the 1950s. “The Manning Family Fund will have a significant impact on the health of all Mississippians. I wanted to leverage my gift to the MIND Center and challenge others to support the Mannings’ effort.”

The fight against Alzheimer’s is personal with Palmer, whose wife Clementine Palmer and her mother Clementine Brown of Jackson succumbed to it several years ago, he said.

It was while he was an ambassador to Portugal, 2001-2004, that he noticed his wife’s memory problems. Because of the rapid progression of the disease, he ended his tenure in Lisbon and returned so she could be cared for at home.

A brain disease that shrinks memory and reasoning, Alzheimer’s has struck more than five million Americans, including more than 50,000 Mississippians, reports the Mississippi Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

People over 80 years of age have a 50/50 chance of having this disease.  As the population ages, the incidence of Alzheimer’s grows exponentially.

“It is a huge problem that is arguably the biggest challenge facing medicine for the next 100 years,” said Dr. Thomas Mosley, director of the MIND Center.

The MIND Center, working in partnership with some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, is able to pursue promising studies on dementia risk factors, genetics and the links between Alzheimer’s and other diseases. With a variety of contributions from businesses and the community, the center has added top researchers and state-of-the-art equipment, Mosley said.

Palmer helped put together a board and has served as the chair since the MIND Center was created. He and Mosley “shared a vision” that produced the research institute, which now also offers clinical treatment for patients with dementia, Mosley said.

“Ambassador Palmer’s most recent gift comes at a fantastic time,” Mosley said, adding that it enables the center to “ramp up” the recently created partnership with UMMC’s Telehealth program to offer dementia care to underserved parts of the state. These gifts will allow the Medical Center to recruit more top researchers to the MIND Center and motivate others to give, Mosley said.

“Seeing the kind of expertise we have at the MIND Center,” Palmer said, “and the scope and potential of UMMC, I thought, ‘This could make a difference.’ ”