The Global Alzheimer’s Platform Foundation (GAP) has recognized State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) as the honoree of the National Citizen Scientist Collaborator Award.
JEM Research Institute, part of the Headlands Research organization, where Willhite is a study partner for his mother, who is living with Alzheimer’s, nominated him for the award to recognize his extraordinary efforts to support Alzheimer’s research through clinical trials with his mother and through legislation.
“As a caregiver, a study partner and an elected official, Rep. Willhite is an advocate in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s in every part of his life,” GAP President John Dwyer said. “It is incredibly important that he can take his personal experiences with the disease and with research to the legislature in order to better support the Florida Alzheimer’s community.”
To accelerate the delivery of innovative Alzheimer’s therapies, GAP works with JEM and more than 80 other research centers across North America to improve recruitment efforts and the operation of clinical trials. This year, research centers in GAP’s network nominated dozens of dedicated volunteers for the 2020 National Citizen Scientist Awards.
Willhite and his mother were inspired to participate in clinical trials at JEM because of their medical backgrounds as a paramedic and a nurse, respectively. They both understood the profound importance of research and innovation in medicine, and the crucial role clinical trial volunteers play in advancing science.
“In my career as a public servant, I have seen time and time again that service to others is the most rewarding thing in life,” Willhite said. “Joining an Alzheimer’s clinical trial is like buying a lottery ticket, but instead of hoping only you win, you hope that your contribution also will help your children, your grandchildren and everyone that comes after you.”
Willhite and his mother participated in the clinical trial of aducanumab, a Biogen drug that is now being considered by the FDA for approval as a treatment for Alzheimer’s. If it is approved, aducanumab will be the first disease-modifying treatment for Alzheimer’s since 2003. Willhite has also worked across the aisle in Tallahassee to pass legislation to strengthen Alzheimer’s care services.
Alzheimer’s is a growing public health threat, with more than 580,000 people over 65 in Florida living with the disease. Along with COVID-19, it is the only top 10 cause of death in the United States with no treatments and no cure. But despite the importance of Alzheimer’s research, 90 percent of Alzheimer’s clinical trials are delayed by slow recruitment, and 99 percent of potential volunteers are never referred to or never consider joining Alzheimer’s clinical trials.
The National Citizen Scientist Collaborator Award, for which GAP recognized Willhite, honors a study partner who consistently supports a clinical trial participant and who promotes Alzheimer’s clinical research involvement in the community. The National Citizen Scientist Awards are supported by the Vradenburg Foundation. To learn more, visit www.globalalzplatform.org/awards.