Rainwater Charitable Foundation furthers brain disease research

Richard Rainwater

Richard Rainwater

By Erin Prather Stafford

Investor Richard Rainwater received a devastating diagnosis in 2009. The Fort Worth native was suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a fatal and incurable brain disease.

To ensure future generations wouldn’t experience the same physical anguish, Mr. Rainwater assembled a team of leading physicians and researchers from around the world to work together and find cures for PSP and other neurodegenerative diseases involving the tau protein. Dubbed the Tau Consortium, their efforts are supported by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

The Foundation recently made a gift of more than $700,000 in support of the work of Dr. Marc Diamond, a Tau Consortium member and founding Director of the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Diamond has devoted his career to identifying mechanisms and new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, which affect millions of people worldwide.

Patrick Brannelly, Program Director of the Tau Consortium, said the Foundation’s operating model continues to echo Mr. Rainwater’s proven business model.

“Richard Rainwater became an icon of American business by spotting and investing in the most talented people on earth,” Mr. Brannelly said. “The Foundation is proud to support Dr. Diamond because he is a brilliant visionary who is tackling some of the most important questions in the field. In just a few short years, he has already helped to advance several new treatments into development. The path to future breakthroughs will undoubtedly pass through Marc Diamond’s lab.”

The tau protein is believed to be at the root of many neurodegenerative diseases, which include PSP, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and Alzheimer’s disease. It is expressed in brain cells, and its functions are not yet understood. It can also become toxic if it accumulates and forms into aggregates. Dr. Diamond’s lab is determining the molecular basis of these processes and what their role is, which could enable a host of new therapies.

Mr. Rainwater, who majored in mathematics at UT Austin, earned a Master of Business Administration on a scholarship from Stanford Business School. He passed away in 2015 from complications related to PSP.

“Understanding the basic mechanisms of brain diseases is one of our top research priorities at UT Southwestern,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “This partnership between the Rainwater Charitable Foundation and UT Southwestern ensures that Dr. Diamond and his team can continue making formidable advances toward diagnosis and treatment. We’re grateful to the Foundation for its years of support and commitment to this important research.”

Dr. Diamond said he hopes that one day patients in their 30s or 40s can visit their doctor’s office, have a drop of blood or spinal fluid extracted, then run a test to detect different disease-causing proteins. If a patient has any of them, treatment can begin before the onset of any symptoms.

“New ideas about how tau leads to progressive pathology have revolutionized our ability to envision new therapies and diagnostics,” Dr. Diamond said. “Some of these ideas have already been translated to the clinic with new therapies being tested, and we hope that the future will see a myriad of new, mechanism-based approaches to diagnose and treat neurodegenerative diseases linked to the tau protein.”

Dr. Diamond holds the Distinguished Chair in Basic Brain Injury and Repair.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.