Marr Family Fuels Quest to Prevent Alzheimer’s

Falmouth, Maine resident John Marr and his family recently donated $2 million to establish the Josephine and John Marr Alzheimer’s Research Fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to advance research aimed at preventing Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Named for John and Josephine, his wife of 59 years, the fund is inspired by Josephine’s courage in living with Alzheimer’s and a desire by the Marr family to help prevent the disease in future generations. In addition to the Marrs’ gift, they are serving as ambassadors by engaging others around the fight against this disease.  More than 70 of the family’s relatives and friends participated in the Maine Marathon in October, raising more than $140,000 for the fund.

Prior to establishing the fund at BWH, the Marrs explored how they could advance Alzheimer’s disease research most effectively.  The family selected BWH after meeting with Dennis J. Selkoe, MD, co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, and learning about the research of Reisa A. Sperling, MD, MMSc, director of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment.

“We were thoroughly impressed with Dr. Sperling’s and Dr. Selkoe’s shared vision for conducting research geared to treating and preventing Alzheimer’s disease,” John says. “We wanted to allocate funds to an organization that could make a real difference.”

Understanding early disease mechanisms in Alzheimer’s is essential to identifying pathways toward prevention. The fund enables Selkoe and Sperling to focus their research on individuals beginning at age 50—a decade earlier than most current studies—in order to illuminate underlying disease processes and identify ways to target them before damage occurs. Crucially, the fund will also help launch an observational study of 50-65 year-olds who have yet to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s but might be at higher risk for the disease. Over time, this observational group may become a study platform for future prevention clinical trials.

“We know the brain abnormalities responsible for Alzheimer’s disease begin decades before the onset of clinical symptoms,” says Sperling. “Dementia is the stage of the disease where we [currently] do our clinical trials, when there’s already been years of irreversible damage. We can’t wait. We’ve got to start these prevention trials much earlier.”

With findings from more than 30 years of research, Selkoe says, “We are at a pivotal point where a true Alzheimer’s prevention initiative is possible—and the visionary support of the Marr family is making it a reality.”