A Return on Investment

If you have ever wondered about the return on investment from a gift to research, you should meet Talene Yacoubian, M.D., Ph.D.

She's conducting exciting research on Parkinson's disease, funded by an investment from the Parkinson Association of Alabama.

If you have ever wondered about the return on investment from a gift to research, you should meet Talene Yacoubian, M.D., Ph.D. Ten years ago, she had just completed a fellowship in movement disorders at Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s Hospitals, working under David G. Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., who had been recruited to the UAB Department of Neurology. Recognizing her talent, Standaert wanted to bring her to Birmingham, where the groundwork for a powerhouse research program in movement disorders had been laid.

The Parkinson Association of Alabama—whose investment in UAB totals nearly $1.9 million since 1982—had made gifts to help bring Standaert to UAB, and also agreed to fund a startup package for Yacoubian, matched to institutional investment. “That investment helped me to start up my lab, hire staff, and collect preliminary data,” she says. “It helped me to become competitive in obtaining other funding through the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Without that, I don’t think we would have been competitive or been successful.”

Seeing that success, the PAA continued to fund her work, which focuses on a specific set of proteins and their role in Parkinson’s disease. “What we really need is a therapy that will, at least, slow down, but ultimately stop, the progression of the disease,” she says. “There is a lot of excitement in the field.“ That excitement—the promise of a breakthrough—led the PAA to make a permanent investment through endowment, even as they have also continued to make spendable gifts.

In 2015, the Parkinson Association of Alabama Endowed Research Scholar in Neurology was established, with Yacoubian as the holder. The endowment earns spendable funds for Yacoubian’s lab each year, leaving the principal in place in perpetuity. And in early 2017, two years after Yacoubian won a prestigious, multi-year NIH grant to further her research, the PAA committed to a significant additional gift that will convert the endowed research scholar position to an endowed professorship.

“We funded the infrastructure to get Talene started, and who knew what was going to happen at first?” says Ken Cater, past president of the PAA. “We saw the vision and the need to fulfill that vision. Our initial investment was not the glory money, if you will; it was the working money. “When you look at the work that has come out of that investment, you see a tremendous leveraging value,” Cater adds. “We have an impact, and I’m extremely proud of that. How can you not get excited about the potential?”

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