McKnight Foundation creates lectureship honoring former director of UF McKnight Brain Institute

The McKnight Brain Research Foundation has endowed the University of Florida with $300,000 to establish a permanent annual lectureship in memory of the late William G. “Bill” Luttge, Ph.D., the first director of UF’s Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute.

William G. “Bill” Luttge, Ph.D.

The William G. Luttge Lectureship in Neuroscience will explore new ideas and approaches to ensure healthy cognitive aging and to counter brain diseases, announced Michael Good, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine.

“In honor of Bill’s limitless thirst for knowledge and exchange of ideas, the trustees of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation have made a gift of $300,000 for a memorial tribute,” Good said. “I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Dr. Luttge than to inspire basic and clinical scientists to work together and solve the problems associated with cognitive aging, age-related memory loss and other brain diseases.”

Luttge passed away on Saturday, March 24, after being diagnosed in January with multiple myeloma, a type of bone cancer. He was tireless in his efforts to organize the vast amount of brain research under way at the University of Florida in the 1980s and 1990s into a comprehensive program, eventually resulting in a $60 million Brain Institute on the UF Health Science Center campus in Gainesville that was dedicated in 1998.

“Dr. Luttge was passionate about discovery, about research that required collaboration, and about opening up novel ideas and novel approaches to solve difficult problems,” said J. Lee Dockery, M.D., a trustee of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation and former interim dean and executive associate dean of the College of Medicine. “This lectureship will bring speakers to campus and continue the kinds of discussion and collaborations that Bill fostered all of his life.”

Luttge catalyzed the relationship between the Brain Institute and the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, Dockery said. It led to a $30 million endowment established by the MBRF to create a research program and endow a faculty chair in age-related memory loss.

“It was his vision for a viable and visible program in cognitive aging that led us to do a site visit and eventually name the building after the McKnights,” Dockery said.

Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight recognized the need to understand successful cognitive aging. William McKnight was chairman of the board of the 3M company for 59 years before he died in 1978. Evelyn McKnight was a nurse and an advocate of memory loss research until her death in 1999.

The $300,000 provides $250,000 that will be invested to perpetuate the lectureship, with $50,000 available immediately to jumpstart the program.

The lectureship is being organized by a committee of five members, including the respective chairs of the departments of neurology, psychiatry and neuroscience — MBI Executive Director Tetsuo Ashizawa, M.D., Mark S. Gold, M.D., and Lucia Notterpek, Ph.D. Rounding out the committee are Thomas Foster, Ph.D., the Evelyn F. McKnight chair for brain research in memory loss, and David Borchelt, Ph.D., a professor in the department of neuroscience and investigator with the UF Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease.

“We are in the position to bring in Nobel laureates or National Academy of Sciences members and surround their visits with faculty discussions, meetings with students and other activities,” Ashizawa said. “Dr. Luttge had an amazing way of connecting people, ideas and concepts. With this lectureship, Dr. Luttge will continue to have a positive and eternal influence on our lives and it will give his family and friends an opportunity to visit and enjoy his legacy.”