Peter T. Nelson

Peter T. Nelson

  • R.C. Durr Foundation Chair in Alzheimer's Disease
  • Director of the Neuropathology Division of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Department
  • Professor in the College of Medicine
  • Researcher in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging

For Peter T. Nelson, the work is personal. A neuropathologist and professor in the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and University of Kentucky College of Medicine, he studies human brains, looking for answers. He wants to better understand dementia-inducing and age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's, a disease that affected his grandmother.

"What I am doing is not abstract," Nelson said. "My mother's mother had Alzheimer's, and she saw how devastating the disease could be. I am privileged to work every single day to find a cure for a disease that haunts my own mother."

Through his research, Nelson helped spearhead a large team that described a common brain disease that mimics Alzheimer's in causing a lack of memory and difficulty thinking. It was originally thought to be a part of Alzheimer's but is actually different and probably will require its own therapeutic strategies.

Peter T. Nelson"You can't treat something if you don't know it exists," Nelson said. "We are now characterizing it so that research can be done on it and future cures can be developed. This will also greatly assist finding therapies for Alzheimer's disease itself, because clinical trials can integrate this new knowledge."

To make these discoveries, researchers need the funding and flexibility to pursue new leads, Nelson said. Science occurs at the edges, and typical grants, which are awarded for a specific project or purpose, don't give researchers freedom to innovate and explore new ideas.

Endowed positions do. The R.C. Durr Foundation Chair in Alzheimer's was established in 1998 to further dementia research. Though Durr died in 2007, his legacy lives on through his foundation, funded by his estate.

Holding the Durr position since 2012, Nelson uses the endowed funds to do research that is not "cookbook." It allows him to explore new ground and be more innovative in his research.

"The endowed chair has been a tremendously helpful resource," Nelson said. "Overall, it allows us to be better researchers, which gets us closer to our goal—curing dementia-inducing diseases and being the best at doing it. We want to be the best, the leaders in curing this disease, but to do so, we need the best talent as a part of our team. Endowed positions like mine allow UK to get the best people and to keep the best people here, all working together to find a cure.

"I am grateful to have the resources to do this innovative work, and I want donors to know that we make the most efficient use of their funds so that we can have the greatest impact and the best chance of curing diseases that affect people throughout the world," Nelson said.

You Can Encourage the Next Big Breakthrough

Future support to the University of Kentucky helps researchers like Peter T. Nelson pursue cures to diseases and solutions to issues in a variety of fields. Contact Gift and Estate Planning at (859) 257-7886 or giftandestate@uky.edu to learn about your giving options.