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, through its Health Science Center, College of Medicine and 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 the UFBI’s director, Luttge embarked on a logistical tour de force to meet the parameters of the grant application. The requirements, such as a $36 million matching grant from UF, were soon met. And on June 11, 1992, UF won the $18 million grant, beating out many prestigious universities and neuroscience research centers.
Construction of the new building couldn’t be completed, however, until the DoD and Veterans Affairs awarded another $20 million for the project in 1996 and 1997. Then on Oct. 22 1998, UF officially opened the doors to its world-class, $60 million UFBI building.
A generous gift and a new name:
The Evelyn F. & William L. McKnight Brain Institute University of Florida
In 2000, the UF Brain Institute was renamed the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida to commemorate a $15 million gift from the McKnight Brain Research Foundation. This award was the largest cash gift in UF history and was matched by the state to help create more than a $30 million 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 prevention and/or alleviation of these impairments.
1998-2004: Founding Director William Luttge, Ph.D.
Dr. Luttge’s research focused on the effects of steroid hormones on brain function. During his 30-plusyears at UF, he also served as chair of the UF Department of Neuroscience (1978-1996) and senior dean for research and the basic sciences. He was awarded the College of Medicine’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
2004: Doug Anderson, Ph.D. (interim director)
Dr. Anderson’s research focused on pathophysiology and the treatment of injuries to the central nervous system, particularly the spinal cord. He served as the MBI’s director of research and development from 1999-2003 and as chair of the UF Department of Neuroscience from 1996-2006.
2004-2010: Dennis A. Steindler, Ph.D.
Dr. Steindler’s research focuses on development of stem cell therapies for the treatment of debilitating neurological diseases. During his time at UF, he was also the Joseph J. Bagnor/Shands Professor of Medical Research in the UF Department of Neurosurgery.
2010-2015: Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D.
Dr. Ashizawa’s research focuses on neurogenetic disorders caused by expansions of DNA sequences that are connected end-to-end and abnormally repeated, such as myotonic dystrophies, spinocerebellar ataxias, Friedreich’s ataxia and Huntington’s disease. He also served as chair of the UF Department of Neurologyfrom 2009-2014.
2015-2016: Steven T. DeKosky, M.D. (interim director)
Dr. DeKosky’s research focuses on structural and neurochemical changes in the human brain in aging and dementia, the effects of traumatic brain injury and the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. He is currently deputy director of the MBI and UF’s Aerts-Cosper Professor of Alzheimer’s Research.
2016-2022: Todd Golde, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Golde’s research into Alzheimer’s disease helped lay the foundation for the amyloid hypothesis, and he has made major contributions to the understanding of amyloid and tau pathologies, as well as the immune system’s role in the disease. Golde was founding director of UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease.