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Alumnus gives $500,000 to Fuel Neuroscience Discoveries

Cardiologist Frank Weiser (D’54 Med’55) has witnessed the transformation of what it means to live with heart disease. Once a death sentence, many forms of heart disease are now managed as chronic conditions or cured. Frank sees a similar transformation on the horizon for neurologic illnesses, such as autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer’s. Eager to be part of that transformation and grateful for the education he received at Dartmouth's medical school, he and his wife, Myra, have made a generous donation to neuroscience research at the Geisel School of Medicine.

The Weisers’ donation of $500,000 will establish an endowment to support basic science and translational research in the neurosciences. It will provide support for the Frank and Myra Weiser Scholar in the Neurosciences, who will be selected by the dean and the senior associate dean for research, with a preference for young faculty members conducting promising research.

Leaps and bounds

“There’s a tremendous potential—and a tremendous need—for understanding the brain in ways that were never before possible,” says Frank. He remembers observing a similar potential and need concerning heart disease in the 1950s.

“Fifty-five years ago, when my father was suffering from severe angina, he consulted all the top doctors in Boston,” recalls Frank, who at the time was completing his MD at Harvard after having graduated from Dartmouth Medical School’s (now Geisel) then-two-year program. “They had nothing to offer him beyond nitroglycerin and digitalis. There were no stents, no beta blockers, no statins.” His father died in 1957 at age 59 from a heart attack. Shortly thereafter, Frank decided to pursue cardiology. During a research fellowship at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, he was part of a team of scientists who were among the first to study beta blockers in animals. Now beta blockers are a common treatment for high blood pressure, angina, and heart failure.

Cardiology has advanced by leaps and bounds during Frank’s career, and now patients like his father have many options available. Frank—an accomplished cardiologist, who is a fellow in three professional physician societies, including the American College of Cardiologists—believes the neurosciences are poised for similar progress. Thanks to advances in the basic sciences and biomedical imaging, it is now possible to study the inner workings of the brain—such as the activity of neurons and the various proteins and chemicals that affect them. Combine this with the growing societal need for new treatments for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and autism, and it’s easy to identify with the Weisers’ enthusiasm.

Tremendous Strength

“We need brilliant young scientists to make the discoveries that will lead to better treatments for these disabling conditions of the brain and nervous system,” says Frank. “Geisel already has tremendous strength in the neurosciences and it’s the perfect size for collaboration and innovation.”

Research fellowships—such as the one established by the Weisers—can provide the boost many faculty need to pursue new lines of research. Researchers often rely on private philanthropy and small grants from their own institutions for such innovative investigations. Data gathered in those studies can then be used to compete for the larger federal grants that are needed to thoroughly test and scale up a discovery or innovation.

“We are very grateful to Dr. and Mrs. Weiser for this generous gift, particularly because of the impact it will have on our younger faculty who are conducting promising neuroscience research,” said Duane Compton, PhD, interim dean of the Geisel School of Medicine. “At a time when there is limited federal funding for new research, gifts such as this provide an important catalyst to boost the careers of young scientists.  I am very impressed by the thoughtful approach that the Weisers took in identifying such an important area of clinical medicine to support.”

And the Weisers are delighted to be helping to provide such support.

“Nothing has pleased my wife and me more than making this gift,” says Frank.