The Story Behind an Endowed Chair for Alzheimer's Research

It’s easy to forget how important endowed professorships can be for advancing research. While big grants, with their attendant images of shimmering piles of money for specific projects, often get all the attention, it takes piles of money to fund professorships, too. And in a lot of ways, endowing a professorship can be more important than funding straight-up research.

The main difference between an endowed professorship and a simple grant is the level of support it shows for the university. “Professorships are the building blocks of a great university,” said Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester, said in announcing that the Robert H. Fine Trust is giving $2 million to the university to establish the Julius, Helen, and Robert Fine Professorship, which will take on Alzheimer’s treatment and research.

While receiving a grant for research can be prestigious and good for the university in the short run, endowing a professorship is a real investment in the future of the institution, not just the researcher’s work alone. “We are deeply grateful to the Fine Family for their decades of support for the Medical Center,” continues Seligman. “This gift will serve as a lasting tribute and will further enable the groundbreaking work being done in neurology and neurosurgery.”

In this case, the Fine Family is special. They’ve endowed not just one professorship, but three. They’re a family with funds, and a strong connection to the university, and that connection is paying URMC back in spades. Paul H. Fine, who’s now a clinical professor emeritus at URMC, graduated from there back in the 1960s, and completed his residency there as well. Not only that, but their family connection to neurodegenerative disorders makes them especially sensitive to the challenges facing researchers in the field.

Dr. Fine’s sister-in-law Helen passed away from ALS in the 1990s, and in 1995, her brother Joseph endowed the Helen Aresty Fine and Irvine Fine Professorship in Neurology in her memory. In 2000, a gift from the Chester and Dorris Carlson Charitable Trust endowed the Paul H. Fine Professorship in Medicine, given purely to honor the skills and career of Dr. Fine.

These three gifts, taken together, are moving neurodegenerative disease research forward in a big way on the shores of Lake Ontario.