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Why Give | Impact stories

Longtime friends come together to support cutting-edge Alzheimer’s research

The friends’ $3 million donation will fund studies of the triggers causing the decline in Alzheimer’s disease patients and allow for therapies to preserve mobility and overall well-being.

81-year-old Brian Aune has been now living with Alzheimer’s for many years. His son Jonathan Aune has found it heartbreaking to see his rapid decline from the renowned businessman he once was.

“Watching him go through that is not easy,” Aune said. “He’s not fully aware of how much he’s lost himself, but the people around him, we all are.”

The number of people living with the neurodegenerative disease in Canada, which destroys brain cells and causes cognitive function and memory to deteriorate, is only expected to increase as the population ages.

As a young investment professional, Brian Aune met two friends, Ken McArthur and Ken Copland, while working for the same investment firm in 1968. The firm’s owner was a mentor to them, and he encouraged them to remember where they came from and give back where they live.

“Through business, we travelled to the USA regularly. Although we were dealing with much larger institutions, we saw that Canadians are tackling global problems with equal competence, often with less funding,” says alumnus Ken McArthur, BCom’61. “I had to look no further than my alma mater to find world-class Alzheimer’s researchers truly deserving of our support.”

Thanks to a $3 million donation from the McArthur, Aune and Copland families, cutting-edge research is being undertaken by two UBC researchers in the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health — Dr. Haakon Nygaard, neurologist and Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research and Dr. Brian MacVicar, professor of psychiatry and Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience.

“We’re now able to grow these tissues in a three-dimensional space. They become little brains,” says Dr. Nygaard. “We can study Alzheimer’s disease in a dish.”

Together, they are launching a new, five-year project that aims to identify ways to protect the brain as Alzheimer’s progresses.

“We are grateful for this philanthropic investment in the future of brain health,” says Dr. Nygaard. “Our research efforts to protect brain nerve cells is absolutely critical as we strive to preserve the memory, mobility and overall well-being of our patients with Alzheimer’s, so they may remain the people their families know and love for as long as possible.”

Dr. Brian MacVicar expands on their unique research approach.

“The cells we work with are derived directly from patients with Alzheimer’s disease, so they also respond in ways that are directly relevant to the brain function of patients,” says Dr. MacVicar. “Understanding the real processes that trigger oxidative stress is key to developing successful therapies for people with Alzheimer’s.”

Jonathan Aune believes it would have made his father proud.

“I think he would be very happy,” he said. “We are grateful for the chance to help lessen that suffering for affected families in any way possible by supporting a team of truly gifted experts.”