World-renowned Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center named for Charles F. and Joanne Knight

Washington University in St. Louis is recognizing Charles F. and Joanne Knight by naming its world-renowned Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) in their honor.

The Knights have long been leaders in supporting Alzheimer’s disease research, and Joanne Knight is a longtime board member and former chair of the St. Louis Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. The Knights have committed more than $15 million to advance Alzheimer’s research at Washington University School of Medicine.

“This magnificent gift from Chuck and Joanne Knight will enable significant progress in the fight against Alzheimer’s, benefiting future generations enormously,” says Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University. “I personally am convinced that Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most serious problems of the 21st century. This gift is another reflection of the extraordinary generosity of the Knights to Washington University and the community.”

The Knights’ other gifts to the School of Medicine — including the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center and Breast Cancer Program at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professorship in Orthopaedic Surgery — reflect their support for improving community health and wellness.

Joanne Knight became familiar with Alzheimer’s when her mother developed the disease in the 1980s.

“We saw firsthand how this disease affects patients and their families,” she recalls. “We also saw that Washington University is at the forefront of Alzheimer’s disease research, and their work offers hope that one day there will be truly effective therapies for treatment.”

“The School of Medicine is a leader in Alzheimer’s research,” Charles F. Knight says. “Researchers here are pursuing treatments that could one day dramatically improve the lives of millions of individuals worldwide. We want to do our part to fulfill that goal.”

“The ADRC is making great advances in understanding Alzheimer’s, as physicians and researchers home in on early detection as well as potential treatments to halt the progress of this terrible illness,” says Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “The unwavering loyalty and generosity of Chuck and Joanne Knight will allow us to make even greater advances.”

The gift will serve as a catalyst for exploring opportunities at the forefront of Alzheimer’s disease research. The funds will be used to support research efforts and to recruit and retain the most talented physicians and scientists, helping the Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center initiate and conduct projects that otherwise would not be possible.

“The pace of research can be so rapid that traditional funding mechanisms are too slow to allow us to fully and rapidly exploit the momentum that builds up,” says ADRC director John C. Morris, MD, the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology. “We frequently find ourselves developing very exciting ideas for diagnosis and treatment that then have to be put on hold for months or a year or more while we seek traditional sources of funding for them.”

“The acceleration in research and development that the Knights’ generous support helps enable is coming at a crucial time,” says David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine and neurologist-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “The age groups at highest risk for Alzheimer’s disease are increasing in number faster than they ever have before, and to prevent the potentially enormous economic and human costs of the epidemic of Alzheimer’s that will result, we must find new solutions for diagnosis and treatment.”

The ADRC was founded in 1985 by Leonard Berg, MD, a pioneer in Alzheimer’s disease research who passed away in January 2007. Among other accomplishments, scientists at the ADRC developed and refined the clinical dementia rating system, which is now the standard clinical measure for staging of dementia. Research at the ADRC has also helped clinicians distinguish between normal effects of aging on memory and the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and helped establish that the causes of Alzheimer’s disease begin damaging the brain decades prior to the first appearance of clinical symptoms.

Now known as the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, it will continue with a commitment to research that offers hope for effective treatments and eventually the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

“This extraordinary gift, as well as those from others, will help us keep the Knight ADRC at the forefront of worldwide efforts to improve our ability to diagnose, treat and one day prevent Alzheimer’s disease,” Morris says.

In addition to their tremendous support of the Washington University School of Medicine, the Knights also have established the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Directorship in Executive Education at the Olin Business School. The generosity of Emerson during the leadership of Charles F. Knight led to the creation of the Emerson Distinguished Professorship in Operations and Manufacturing Management, the Emerson Fellows and the Emerson Classroom in the Olin School. Olin’s Charles F. Knight Executive Education Center is dedicated to Charles F. Knight’s business and community leadership.

Charles F. Knight is chairman emeritus of Emerson. As chief executive officer for 27 years, he led Emerson’s transformation from a regional producer to a technology-based global manufacturing leader providing innovative solutions to customers. He chaired Barnes Hospital from 1991-95, when he helped engineer the formation of BJC HealthCare, and served as its chairman from 1993-98. He is now chairman emeritus. The hospital’s Knight Emergency and Trauma Center was named for him in 2002. For 13 years, he served on Washington University’s Board of Trustees. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1996.

Joanne Knight has been active in the St. Louis chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association since the 1980s and has served as a director for nearly 20 years. She also has been a director of the Central Institute for the Deaf for the past 26 years, and she has chaired the board of St. Luke’s Hospital. In 1987, KMOX Radio and the Suburban Journals named her a Woman of Achievement. She served on the Washington University School of Art National Council from 1989-1996 and is a member of the Siteman Cancer Center Community Advisory Board. Joanne will receive an honorary doctorate from Washington University at the 2010 Commencement ceremonies May 21.

In addition to a number of personal gifts, Charles F. and Joanne Knight have provided the majority of their support to advance Alzheimer’s research at Washington University School of Medicine through the Knight Fund, a donor-advised fund at the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

The Greater St. Louis Community Foundation has been helping St. Louisans put charitable dollars to work addressing the issues most important to them since 1915. With unwavering objectivity, a renowned technical discipline and a commitment to working collaboratively with donors, their advisors and the nonprofits they support, the foundation is dedicated to facilitating and increasing charitable giving in this region and across the nation. This foundation has more than 400 individual charitable funds that total $170 million in assets and distribute over $17 million in grants annually. Each fund represents a unique charitable giving partnership with an individual, family or business.