Distinguished Alzheimer’s researcher named first director of URI’s Ryan Institute for Neuroscience

KINGSTON, RI –  The University of Rhode Island has selected Paula Grammas, former executive director of the Garrison Institute on Aging at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and an international leader in the study of Alzheimer’s disease, to be the inaugural director of The George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. She will also become the Thomas M. Ryan Professor of Neuroscience at URI.

Grammas is best known for her pioneering research into the role that blood vessels and inflammation play in the development of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. A former professor of neurology and holder of the Mildred and Shirley Garrison Chair in Aging at the Texas Tech School of Medicine, she has received numerous awards for her Alzheimer’s research.

“Dr. Grammas is a highly accomplished scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the field of neuroscience,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “She is a respected leader, an enthusiastic educator, and the ideal person to serve as the first director of the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. I look forward to working with her as we build an international reputation for the Institute.”

Grammas has been the principal investigator or co-investigator on more than $24 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and other agencies and foundations. She has published 141 peer-reviewed research papers. She is the recipient of the Zenith Award from the Alzheimer’s Association in recognition of her accomplishments as one of the nation’s leading researchers on Alzheimer’s disease.

Prior to working at the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, Grammas served as director of the University of Oklahoma’s Center for Neuroscience and held the Presbyterian Health Foundation Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She earned a doctorate in pathology from Wayne State University, a master’s degree from New York Medical College, and a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College.

The Ryan Institute was established in November 2013 with a $15 million gift from former CVS Health chairman and chief executive officer Thomas M. Ryan, a 1975 URI pharmacy graduate, and his wife Cathy. It remains the largest private donation in URI history.

“Dr. Grammas is a renowned scientist and recognized leader in Alzheimer’s research,” said Ryan. “Her demonstrated ability to collaborate across multiple organizations and bring in a variety of perspectives is critical to finding a cure for these devastating diseases.

“URI’s groundbreaking research in neuroscience already complements existing research programs at Brown University, Lifespan and Care New England. With Dr. Grammas leading the Institute, I believe we will advance the conversations with our partners in the state and beyond to position Rhode Island as a primary destination for research, therapies and treatments around neurodegenerative and neurological disorders.”

Named for Ryan’s parents, the Institute focuses its research, teaching, and outreach on neurodegenerative diseases and disorders, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. It draws on the expertise of more than 30 scientists from across the University who have been studying brain disorders and diseases from multiple perspectives and disciplines. The faculty – from pharmacy, engineering, psychology, chemistry, communicative disorders, cell and molecular biology, and more – participate in the URI Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, established in 2011 to conduct innovative neuroscience research and offer master’s and doctoral degrees.

Grammas will be charged with building the Ryan Institute into an internationally recognized neuroscience center committed to excellence in research, education and outreach. She will lead efforts to establish a robust research program, build research collaborations with other institutions, develop neuroscience educational programs involving undergraduate and graduate students, and play a central role in seeking external funding to support the growth of the Institute.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to lead the Ryan Institute at URI and build collaborations with Brown University, Lifespan, Care New England and other partners in Rhode Island and beyond to study and look for the causes and treatments of neurodegenerative disease,” said Grammas. “For me, this is a unique and special opportunity to capitalize on the growing expertise in neuroscience at URI and expand complementary collaborations with our strong and committed partners.

“I also appreciate Tom Ryan’s vision and commitment to advancing research on these diseases. Without his foresight and generosity, this special opportunity to pull together all of these talented people and dedicated organizations might never have happened.”

Neuroscience is one of the last scientific frontiers where fundamental discoveries can still be made. Major advances in the understanding of the brain have been made in recent years, allowing for the development of innovative therapeutic solutions and treatments that were not possible just a decade ago. The Ryan Institute was established in the same year that the Obama administration unveiled a $100 million brain mapping initiative and the Society for Neuroscience described the coming years as “a period of breakthrough discovery in brain science.”

With more than 600 types of neurological disorders, the World Health Organization estimates that one in three Americans will suffer from a neurological disorder in their lifetime. Alzheimer’s disease alone costs the United States as much as $200 billion per year in direct and indirect health care expenses.

Grammas, who was trained as a vascular scientist studying the blood vessels in the brain, has been researching Alzheimer’s disease for more than 30 years. The challenge of finding a cure, she said, is that there are multiple causes of the disease.

“If there was one single cause for Alzheimer’s, we would have had a drug for it 30 years ago,” Grammas said. “With this complex disease, it has to be studied in a variety of ways. And that’s what’s so exciting about coming to the Ryan Institute at URI. A lot of different talented players with complementary expertise and perspectives are going to come together at URI, and from that we’re going to get new approaches to treatments. I can’t wait to get started.”

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