When Thomas Hartman, affectionately known as “Father Tom,” was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he founded the Thomas Hartman Foundation as a way of using his illness as a gift to others, raising money to support research efforts to combat the disease.
As Father Tom’s health began to fail, his foundation looked for a home where his legacy and goal to continue aiding researchers could be solidified.
After his foundation raised over $2 million in conjunction with the Simons Foundation, Stony Brook University officially dedicated the new Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research in June.
“We were very excited when the Hartman Foundation decided that Stony Brook would be a great place for their center,” Craig Evinger, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and a leading researcher at the new center, said. “We think this is going to be very significant in the long run as we go forward researching the disease.”
Funding for the new center will help two leading researchers who were already studying the effects of Parkinson’s: Evinger and Professor Lorna Role, a co-director of the Institute for Advanced Neurosciences and a chair in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.
In addition, 10 investigators new to Parkinson’s research have been added to bring different ideas, Evinger explained.
University President Samuel L. Stanley said in a press release that together”their research covers new ground both in basic science and in clinical applications to increase the quality of life for those afflicted with the disease.”
The creation of the center comes at an opportune time for researchers. Evinger says it has always been a challenge trying to secure funds for research, but especially more so since the budget of National Institutes of Health (NIH) was cut. The NIH provides the majority of monetary support for biomedical research in America.
“Even worse the sequestration is really making a mess of things at the moment,” Evinger said. “When you apply for NIH grants they like to see some preliminary data, and it takes a little bit of funding to collect that data.
“One of the things the center has been doing is allowing people to get sufficient funding to collect this data so you can get the grants you need to run your lab for three to five years.”
Evinger is currently working on a method called deep brain stimulation, which sends electrodes directly to the portion of the brain disrupted by Parkinson’s and electrically stimulates it. He says this treatment has a remarkable effect on movement problems in patients. Researchers have figured out how the method works but Evinger is conducting research to improve it so that deep brain stimulation can become a more effective treatment option.
The university and researchers at the new center are hopeful that they can make significant breakthroughs by working together.
“Parkinson’s disease is progressive and gets worse all the time and we would like to stop that progression and improve the quality of life,” Evinger said, “The center has the long term goal of finding the cure for Parkinson’s disease.”
According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, an estimated 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease every year, with reportedly thousands of cases going undiagnosed. There are more than one million people in the United States who suffer from the disease.