By Andy Gilmore l University Communications
AURORA, Colo. – A local group of seventh-grade students presented a check for $3,000 to the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome at the University of Colorado School of Medicine to aid research into Alzheimer’s disease. The money was raised as a result of an evening of Alzheimer’s awareness at Graland Country Day School in Denver.
Huntington Potter, Ph.D., director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program, accepted the donation during a presentation by several of the Graland students during a visit to the Anschutz Medical Campus on April 3.
(Photo above l to r: Teacher Mark Gatlin, students Anna Newman, Sam Nassif, Alex Alijani, Lily Fox, Alyvia Gonzales, Anna Belfance, Madeleine Hunt, and Dr. Huntingon Potter)
“It is such an inspiration to a scientist that middle-school children realize that Alzheimer’s disease is a terrible national crisis and are willing to put their time and effort into an educational and fund raising event. With that kind of dedication on our side, we can solve this problem,” Potter said.
At an Alzheimer’s awareness event at the school, each of the 64 students in the seventh-grade class created a memory box by taking inspiration from a special person in their lives, many of whom has been afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. The boxes contained a variety of personalized artifacts to honor their chosen individual.
The event was created by a Graland alumna and current junior at Kent Denver School, Anna Newman. She discussed her grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s, explaining that her interest in the disease developed after reading a news article about Potter’s work. Newman then decided to organize an event at Graland to raise awareness of the disease.
Potter’s research focuses on the strong connection between Alzheimer’s and Down syndrome. He explains that the two disorders are genetically related. “We have found that all people with Down syndrome will develop the brain pathology of Alzheimer’s disease by the time they are 40 years old,” Potter explained, “and at least 50 percent of these patients will eventually develop dementia.”
The lack of such a research center in the Rocky Mountain area led Potter to the University of Colorado, where he created what he described as “the only institution in the country, possibly the world, where Alzheimer’s disease and Down syndrome can, and will, be studied together.”
The students also had an opportunity to sit down with Potter and share their personal stories and inspirations behind their memory boxes.
Student Sam Nassif, whose grandfather is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, shared his decision to focus on his grandfather’s love of fish and art by including a number of paints, brushes and family pictures.
Another student, Alyvia Gonzales, took inspiration from her grandfather’s time working on the railroad and explained that it was important to include relevant artifacts to ensure the subjects’ character is visible through the content placed in the memory boxes.
Along with Nassif, Gonzales and Newman, Graland students Alex Alijani, Lily Fox, Anna Belfance and Madeleine Hunt, as well as their science teacher Mark Gatlin, ended their visit with a tour of the laboratories of the Crnic Institute. There they got a look at the vital work researchers there are conducting on Alzheimer’s disease.