Almanac

Community - February 13, 2013

Alzheimer's event draws 300

by Kate Daly

"This could be ground zero for a cure," declared local Alzheimer's advocate Michaela "Mikey" Hoag to a sellout crowd of 300 at a fundraising event she chaired Jan. 29 in Menlo Park.

The Atherton woman lost her father to the disease 15 years ago, which motivated her to organize the first Part the Cloud Gala last spring. The stated mission is: "To fund Alzheimer's research in Northern California with the highest probability of slowing, stopping or ultimately curing Alzheimer's disease."

That gala made close to $2 million, and there are plans to repeat the star-studded party in May of 2014. In the meantime, Ms. Hoag decided to throw a Part the Cloud luncheon on Jan. 29 at Sharon Heights Golf & Country Club "to widen our base and educate the community." "The icing on the cake," she said, is that the luncheon raised more than $300,000.

Ms. Hoag used the luncheon as a public platform to announce the first three winners of Part the Cloud research grants. The Alzheimer's Association put together a panel of 20 scientists from eight countries to select the winners. Only Northern California recipients "doing late stage research" could apply ... "typically, the Alzheimer's Association has never given money towards that," Ms. Hoag explained.

The nonprofit association is involved in Alzheimer's care, support and research. Its latest published figures show 5.4 million Americans have the disease and that Alzheimer's accounts for anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of all dementia cases.

The first luncheon speaker was grant recipient Dr. Michael Weiner of the San Francisco VA Medical Center/UCSF. As principal investigator of the NIH-funded Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, he is involved with the Whole Genome Sequencing project, which received several hundred thousand dollars from Part the Cloud.

The other two grant recipients received $600,000 each. Dr. Adam Boxer of UCSF is conducting a clinical trial on Alzheimer's patients to check the efficacy of a drug that was originally targeted for brain cancer treatment. Dr. Frank Longo is at Stanford and the lead scientist at Pharmatrophix in Menlo Park, where he has been working with Alzheimer's mice and is now ready to do the first human trial testing of a drug.

Two speakers at the luncheon put a human face on the disease by sharing their personal stories. Susan Harvell, 53, talked about being diagnosed over a year ago with early onset Alzheimer's, saying how hard it has been to give up her high-tech human resources job, stop driving, and rely on family and friends as she loses her memory.

Mark Kennedy Shriver spoke about his father's last 10 years living with Alzheimer's, "a brutal disease, devastating emotionally and financially." Mr. Shriver wrote a book, "A Good Man: Rediscovering my Father, Sargent Shriver." "Sarge" was married to Eunice Kennedy and served as chairman of the organization she founded, Special Olympics. He headed the Peace Corps under his brother-in-law President Kennedy, and helped fight the war on poverty under President Johnson.

Son Mark Shriver said he asked his father, five years before his death in 2011: "You're losing your mind; how does it make you feel?" His father's response was, "I'm doing the best with what God has given me."

Mr. Shriver described his father's life as based on faith, hope and love. His message to those dealing with Alzheimer's was: "Caregivers, you're really love-givers. You have to give love, accept love, and rely on folks to support you through it."

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