UF’s Norman Fixel Institute receives $25M gift

UF and UF Health received an additional $25 million gift from the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation to assist in the continued expansion of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health.

The new investment, announced Tuesday, will spur growth in the areas of national and international telemedicine, Alzheimer’s disease clinical research, mental health, traumatic brain injury and ALS and will help cultivate the next generation of expert researchers tackling these challenging diseases.

The gift will be part of a new $75 million initiative that will combine contributions from UF, UF Health and additional private donors.

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Lee Fixel gift announcement

The Fixel Foundation previously donated more than $25 million from 2017 to 2019 to establish the Norman Fixel Institute and to help build the UF Health Neuromedicine-Williston Road facility that houses UF Health’s neuromedicine specialty practice and a neurotechnology laboratory.

The institute is a premier clinical care and research enterprise focused on advancing diagnosis and treatment for Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), dystonia and concussions. The institute was named in honor of Lee Fixel’s father, Norman, who graduated from UF with a bachelor’s degree in business in 1975. Lauren Fixel is also a UF graduate, with a 2007 bachelor’s degree in journalism.

“This new $75 million fundraising campaign will build upon previous momentum and further expand the Norman Fixel Institute into a one-of-a-kind campus that will become a destination for patients and families seeking the best possible care and the latest research advances for debilitating neurological diseases,” Lee Fixel said. “With new investments in telemedicine, patients from around the world will be able to access world-class medical doctors at UF for first or second opinions for any neurodegenerative disease.”

In addition to supporting the recruitment of new clinicians and researchers, the new Fixel gift will provide funds to physically expand the institute’s footprint, creating a dedicated campus designed to enhance the patient experience. The upgraded campus will co-locate scholars in Alzheimer’s disease clinical research and geriatric psychiatry and add national and international telemedicine clinician-researchers as well as a nutritionist and two biomarker collection coordinators. In addition, it will add MRI and neurotechnology research space, among expansion in other areas, and will feature a central park with eating establishments and other amenities for patients.

“This gift from Lauren and Lee Fixel will change lives and offer patients unprecedented access to care and research advances,” said UF President Kent Fuchs. “To have a freestanding campus dedicated solely to neurological diseases is unique, and this gift will take an already renowned institute to the next level.”

The 2019 Fixel gift provided for the recruitment of many faculty members, including Drs. Malú Tansey and Matthew LaVoie, the co-directors of UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease, who became the first endowed chairs of the institute. The gift also supported the recruitment of Dr. Stefan Prokop, who became the first designated Fixel Scholar and now serves as director of the UF Neuromedicine Human Brain and Tissue Bank.

“With the 2019 Fixel gift, we were able to quickly recruit some of the world’s top researchers in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases — diseases that disrupt the lives of millions of Americans and will only continue to affect more and more patients and families as our population ages,” said Dr. David Nelson, senior vice president for health affairs at UF and UF Health president.

UF Health Dr. Michael Okun

The institute has seen vibrant growth under Drs. Michael Okun and Kelly Foote, world experts in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, dystonia and other neurological disorders as well as the use of deep brain stimulation. What they started as UF’s Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration in 2002 has grown from two faculty members to more than 100.

The institute allows patients with neurological diseases to see specialists of diverse disciplines at one location: physicians who specialize in movement disorders, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and swallowing specialists, nutritionists, social workers and genetic counselors.

“This is the way health care should be delivered, and this team continues to raise standards for the future,” said Rick Staab, chair of the Norman Fixel Institute’s Leadership Council and president and co-founder of Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure.

In 2020, Lee Fixel launched the venture capital firm Addition to invest in early and growth stage technology businesses. Lauren Fixel, who grew up in Coral Springs, Florida, is the co-chair of the Young Manhattan Women’s division at UJA-Federation of New York and plays an active role leading the Lauren and Lee Fixel Family Foundation.

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