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Maturing millions: UAMS center on aging gains national attention, attracts $2.5 million in recent endowments.

THE UNIVERSITY OF ARkansas for Medical Sciences was officially chosen last week to become a site for one of the 10 geriatric centers of excellence in the country.

UAMS is in good company with Johns Hopkins, Yale, Harvard, Stanford and Duke universities.

The nomination, made by the Commonwealth Fund in New York and the Alliance for Aging Research in Washington, D.C., will potentially mean more resources and researchers for UAMS.

UAMS will be given $1.5 million if it can match the grant from the two organizations with another $1.5 million to become one of the centers.

This is the latest step forward in the field of geriatrics for UAMS. Its Arkansas Center on Aging, which does not yet even have a physical location on campus, is attracting attention nationwide.

David A. Lipschitz, the head of the division on aging at UAMS, says the new challenge grant demonstrates the Center on Aging's importance.

"That's the kind of advantage having a Center on Aging will give us," Lipschitz says. "It will provide us with a mechanism to take advantage of these national opportunities."

In late May, the center received a $1 million endowment from The Inglewood Foundation of Little Rock for research on Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.

Lipschitz says most medical schools have geriatric and gerontologic programs, but he says there are only a dozen that have outstanding reputations -- and UAMS is one of them.

It is one of 15 schools associated with a veteran's hospital to become a Gerontology Research & Education Clinical Center for the study and treatment of older veterans.

The GRECC annual budget is $1 million. Another almost $3 million for research is raised through outside resources, so about $4 million is devoted to the study of aging.

Lipschitz says it was GRECC that promoted the initial discussions for the Center on Aging almost five years ago.

The "program without walls," as the center is called, encompasses everything from the colleges of medicine, nursing and pharmacy to affiliated facilities such as the Geriatric Clinic and the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute.

"We have all this tremendous expertise dotted around the campus," Lipschitz says. "All of us ... felt it was important that there would be a mechanism available where we could work together."

Lipschitz is quick to add that although the campus is home to the center, the goal is to have more than just UAMS involved.

"The center really is a way we hope to bring together the many health care professionals who are interested in the elderly and in the older person."

Lipschitz says the immediate goal is "to create an environment that will facilitate research and make UAMS far more competitive for research dollars because we are able to function as a team."

Competitive Edge

Even without physical walls, Lipschitz says, the center "will make us extremely competitive."

UAMS eventually plans to establish a physical location for the center and name a director, Lipschitz says, but "it won't be this huge thing that's employing hundreds and hundreds of people."

The center will function as something of a clearing-house and allow for dialogue. For example, faculty members have already joined to put together a grant proposal by Jan. 1 for interventional aging research.

In addition to a competitive edge, Lipschitz says, "The reason that it's so important to have a Center on Aging is there are so many disparate needs and a great deal of multidisciplinary expertise is required to solve many of the problems of older persons."

Lipschitz says that once the center is fully established, UAMS hopes to name it the David Pryor Center on Aging in honor of the senator's contributions to the elderly in Arkansas and the United States.

As part of the five-year, $63.5 million capital drive at UAMS, the center is conducting a $4.3 million fund-raising drive.

The center is already a significant part of the campus in several ways.

"Arkansas ranks in the top five states in the nation in terms of percentage of population 65 years old and up," says UAMS Chancellor Harry P. Ward. "It is estimated that more than 25 percent of all Arkansans will be in the category by the year 2030."

Ward points to endowments, such as the recent $1 million grant for Alzheimer's research, as good investments in the future health of Arkansas' aging population.

"Anything we can do now to stem the tide of Alzheimer's disease is a very wise investment," he says. "The gift takes a major step toward ensuring that this vital segment of our society will enjoy the best health care we can offer."

Lipschitz points to the endowments as a unique opportunity for Arkansas from a fiscal perspective.

"There's a tremendous opportunity for the state in the field of aging," he says.

The idea that older people are always functionally dependent and frail is just not true, says Lipschitz, adding that they should be looked at for the resources and innovations they can bring.

Lipschitz says UAMS is particularly interested in focusing on the care of the elderly in rural areas and that another goal of the center is to work with industry to develop novel services for the elderly.

If the Commonwealth Fund and Alliance for Aging Research grant is approved, Lipschitz says, "The focus of that $3 million will be to train health care professionals who then can teach more about aging."

It's a good example, Lipschitz says, of the potential cyclical effects of the Center on Aging.
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Title Annotation:University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 21, 1993
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