McKnight Brain Institute

In December of 1991, Dr. William Luttge, then chairman of the UF Department of Neuroscience, came across an excerpt from an obscure newsletter, Commerce Business Daily, announcing a call for proposals for a competitive Department of Defense (DoD) grant to build a major national brain and spinal cord research center. The military’s interest in such a center is to spur research discoveries about treating head and spine trauma and other neurological injuries suffered by soldiers on the battlefield.

Around the same time, the University of Florida (UF), through its Health Science Center, College of Medicine and its teaching hospital, Shands at UF, made a strategic decision to create a unique campus-wide program to harness and enhance the multidisciplinary research, clinical care and educational skills of the entire university and thus maximize our ability to confront the awesome challenges brought on by nervous system disorders. This program was named the University of Florida Brain Institute (UFBI).

Newly appointed as director of UF’s Brain Institute, Luttge embarked on a logistical tour de force to meet all of requirements of the grant application (not a small feat). The requirements, such as a $36,000,000 matching grant from UF, were soon met. And on June 11, 1992, UF had won the $18,000,000 grant, beating out several prestigious universities and neuroscience research centers.

Construction of the new institute building couldn’t be completed, however, until the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs awarded another $20,000,000 for the project in 1996 and 1997. Then on October 22 1998, at last the moment arrived: The University of Florida officially opened the doors to its world-class, $60 million UF Brain Institute building.

With the advent of the new millennium, the MBI-UF was renamed the Evelyn F. & William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida (MBI-UF) to celebrate and commemorate a $15,000,000 gift from the McKnight Brain Research Foundation. This award was the largest cash gift in UF history and it was matched by the State of Florida to help create over a $30,000,000 permanent endowment devoted to fundamental research on the mechanisms underlying the formation, storage and retrieval of memories, the impairments in these processes associated with aging, and the development of therapeutic strategies for the prevention and/or alleviation of these impairments in humans.

MBI building under constructionMBI-UF selected milestones

  • 1970 – Formation of the Department of Neuroscience in the UF College of Medicine (2nd such department in USA).
  • 1988 – Formation of ”Brain Institute” task force by UF College of Medicine.
  • 1991 – UF College of Medicine and Shands Hospital leaders choose brain sciences as top development initiative following extensive strategic planning exercise.
  • 1992 – Initial “Brain Institute” membership approximately 144 faculty from 8 colleges and 33 depts. $18M DoD grant to construct “research, education and training facility” (+ $39M UF match). UF Brain Institute formation approved by State University Board of Regents.
  • 1996 – $13.3M DoD/VA award for building “permanent equipment” (+ $2M from investments). Groundbreaking for 210,000 GSF “beyond the-state-of-the-art” building.
  • 1997 – $6.3M DoD/VA award for building “permanent equipment”.
  • 1998 – Opening and dedication of $60M building (+ $2.5M in corporate equipment gifts).
  • 2000 – $15M gift from E.F. & W.L. McKnight Brain Research Foundation (+ $15M State match). MBI-UF membership over 300 faculty from 10 colleges and 51 depts.
  • 2004 – Dr. William Luttge retires from the University of Florida, and as Executive Director of the McKnight Brain Institute. Dr. Douglas K. Anderson becomes Interim Director.
  • 2004 – After an exhaustive national search, Dr. Dennis Steindler, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Florida McKnight Brain Institute, is appointed Executive Director. Dr. Steindler appoints Dr. Harry Nick as the permanent Senior Associate Director of the Institute.
  • 2005 – Six platform programmatic research initiatives are established to bring together scientists and clinical investigators working in age-related cognitive decline; brain cancer; central nervous system injury; chronic neurological diseases; development, regeneration and rehabilitation; and, mental health, neurobehavioral sciences, and addiction.
  • 2005-2007 – Renovations are undertaken in the institute to generate new research space for new faculty recruited to working groups in cancer stem cell research, movement disorders, and stroke.
  • 2006 – The Florida Center for Brain Tumor Research was brought to the MBI from a legislative mandate.
  • 2007 – The Regeneration Project, including work being done in the MBI within the Program in Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, is announced with the goal of assembling investigators from around the world interested in advancing the understanding of brain and other organ regeneration.
  • 2010 – Dr. Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., FAAN, chairman and Melvin Greer professor of the Department of Neurology, is appointed Executive Director of the McKnight Brain Institute after Dr. Steindler steps down to pursue research. Serving alongside Dr. Ashizawa is a steering committee that includes William A. Friedman, M.D., Chair, Department of Neurological Surgery; Mark S. Gold, M.D., Chair, Department of Psychiatry; Lucia Notterpek, Ph.D., Chair, Department of Neuroscience; Marco Pahor, M.D., Chair/Director, Department of Aging/Geriatric Research; Thomas Foster, Ph.D., Professor and McKnight Research Chair for ARML; and Todd E. Golde, M.D., Ph.D., Director, CTRND.