IHSI receives $4.5 million gift to support brain health innovation

6/7/2023 10:30:06 AM

The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute (IHSI) recently received an estate gift of more than $4.5 million toward brain health research and innovation. The gift was given by the late Edward (Rick) Heiken, a 1972 economics graduate and long-time donor and supporter of Illinois, and supports the work of Neal Cohen, a professor of psychology and former IHSI director, and colleagues at Illinois. Heiken’s vision for the gift emphasized the development and deployment of state-of-the-art assessment of cognitive and brain health, with special interest in being able to conduct assessments remotely.

IHSI and Prof. Cohen will work collaboratively to honor Heiken’s wishes and vision, dedicating the fund to support research efforts that will have significant impact on studies of cognitive and brain health. The gift will be used initially to create and deploy a platform to assess neurocognitive function using frequent, brief, and adaptive interactions via tablets, smart phones, and smart watches.

“This type of technology-inspired health innovation is exactly what will become increasingly important in the future for not only individuals, but also for our communities, healthcare providers, and society,” said IHSI Interim Director Stephen Boppart. 

Heiken envisioned that digital tools created at Illinois would allow for neurocognitive assessment that is available to various patient populations in their homes and in everyday life, rather than only in the clinic or healthcare center. Further, that this assessment would be available to individuals over the course of their lives and in response to life events, rather than only as part of medical treatment.

“Future application of these, and related tools, would make it possible for any person to be empowered with information about their own memory and brain health,” said Cohen. “… and about changes in these aspects of their health as they age, sustain injury or illness, handle life stresses, change their sleep or fitness levels, learn new skills, and so on, with the data stored securely and available for their own use.”

Cohen and Boppart both believe these advances will have long-standing impact.

“Employing such capabilities in research efforts at Illinois will make it possible to revolutionize the scientific study of brain and cognition in aging, development, clinical disorders, including tracking change in progressive disorders such as dementia and in recovery from acute illness or trauma, as well as monitoring the effects on cognitive and brain health of lifestyle choices related to sleep, nutrition, and fitness,” said Cohen.

“With our aging populations, our healthcare systems and caregiver networks will have to rely more heavily on sensors and monitoring technologies that can even be predictive as to when interventions will be necessary,” said Boppart. “Heiken foresaw this, and his vision will be realized through his most generous contribution to the work we do here at Illinois and with our clinical partners.”