The Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research in the Stony Brook University Department of Neurobiology and Behavior was dedicated during a ceremony in the Center on June 13, and named in honor of Monsignor Thomas Hartman, beloved priest, Emmy Award-winning television and radio personality, and champion for countless good causes.
“Father Tom,” as he is often referred, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2004. True to his character, say his friends, he thought of his diagnosis as a gift and immediately established a foundation to raise funds to support Parkinson’s disease research. From 2004 to 2012, the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, whose board of directors included Stony Brook alumnus Ernie Canadeo, raised about $1 million each year, awarding grants to a variety of researchers, institutions and initiatives.
As Father Tom’s health began to deteriorate, it became clear the Foundation would not be sustainable. Having reconnected with his alma mater and realizing the powerful research university Stony Brook had become – and its particular expertise in the neurosciences – Canadeo suggested establishing the Thomas Hartman Center at Stony Brook, an idea wholeheartedly supported by Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, and others at the University.
“The idea came with a challenge,” said Canadeo. “We needed to raise $1 million to establish the Center at Stony Brook. If we did so, the gift would be doubled through a matching gift from Jim and Marilyn Simons.”
With an inner circle of Father Tom’s friends stepping forward to make philanthropic gifts at a kickoff dinner held in April 2012, the fundraising received a tremendous head start: $500,000. A gala held in October, attended by more than 500 people and Father Tom himself, elevated the fundraising beyond its $1 million goal.
With more than $1 million in gifts from those who believe in Father Tom’s dream and another $1 million in matching funds from Jim and Marilyn Simons and the Simons Foundation, the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research at Stony Brook University has a healthy beginning.
“In this first round of funding, the Hartman Center will support two investigators who were previously studying Parkinson’s disease, and welcomes 10 established investigators who are new to the field of Parkinson’s disease research,” said President Stanley. “Their research covers new ground both in basic science and in clinical applications to increase the quality of life for those afflicted with the disease.”
The Center’s lead researchers include Leslie “Craig” Evinger, a widely published and highly regarded Stony Brook neuroscientist who is already revolutionizing the study of Parkinson’s, and Professor Lorna Role, co-director of the Institute for Advanced Neuroscience and department chair, who examines a broad range of neurodegenerative disorders. The Hartman Center will provide a hub where they, as well as other researchers, scientists, medical experts, students and clinicians can think, experiment, and most importantly, collaborate as they work to translate discoveries in basic science into practical solutions for Parkinson’s patients.
Current research is already showing promising new developments. President Stanley, a physician, noted that the cause of Parkinson’s disease is the death of a specific group of neurons in the brain. An explanation for why these neurons die is that there is too much calcium coming into the neurons through a special opening in their membrane. Drs. Lonnie Wollmuth and Mark Bowen propose to identify a molecular signature for this opening to enable them to block the calcium inflow to rescue the dying neurons. Additionally, Drs. Hoi-Chung Leung and Christine DeLorenzo propose to use new human brain imaging techniques to characterize changes in brain structure that affect planning and reasoning in Parkinson’s patients.
“With reductions in government spending, private philanthropy is becoming even more important to advance critical research,” said Dexter Bailey, Vice President for University Advancement. “Thanks to the innovative research ongoing at Stony Brook University and the leadership of the Hartman Foundation, the Center now has a permanent home and the fight against Parkinson’s disease will continue.”
“Father Tom never said ‘no’ to anyone,” said Ernie Canadeo. “Now no one is saying ‘no’ to him, to his legacy. Stony Brook is the perfect place to make Father Tom’s dream a reality.”