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Cambridge University gets £5 million gift to help fight Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases

By Ben Comber

Microscope analysis of brain cells
Microscope analysis of brain cells

A gift from a Cambridge alumnus will support fundamental research into the causes of neurodegenerative diseases.

R. Derek Finlay is donating £5 million to fund the completion of the Chemistry of Health building, in the Department of Chemistry.

The building, which is due to open in 2018, will house the Centre for Misfolding Diseases, which is driving ground-breaking research into how protein molecules ‘misfold’, leading to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and type 2 diabetes.

Today, March 23, Mr Finlay will unveil a plaque dedicating the laboratories that will be occupied by the Centre for Misfolding Diseases to his late wife Una. This plaque will be placed within the Chemistry of Health building when it opens in 2018.

Finlay lost his wife, Una Finlay, in 2016 to Alzheimer’s disease.

He said, “It is my hope that the new Chemistry of Health Building will enable breakthroughs to be made in our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases, bringing us closer to the development of new treatments. My gift to support Cambridge’s pioneering work in this area is in memory of my dear late wife, Una, herself a sufferer of Alzheimer’s.”

The Centre’s research, which is directed by Christopher Dobson, Professor of Chemical and Structural Biology, is taking forward understanding of misfolding proteins in humans and looking at ways to accelerate the development of new diagnostics and therapeutics.

Professor Dobson said: “We are enormously grateful for this generous benefaction from Derek, and honoured that our laboratories within the building will be named after his late wife Una. Disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are becoming frighteningly common in the modern world. The Chemistry of Health building will enable us to make a giant step forward in translating recent breakthroughs made in Cambridge into future treatments to combat these rapidly proliferating and truly devastating conditions.”

Finlay is a long-standing donor to Collegiate Cambridge, supporting a number of initiatives in his College, Emmanuel. The College Museum is endowed and named in honour of his brother, Douglas Finlay. He also attended the College (1941) and died in a flying accident in 1948, having served in RAF Bomber Command 1941-45 including nearly two years as a Prisoner of War in Stalag Luft III in Sagan, Germany.

Following Finlay’s most recent gift to Cambridge, he is being made a Companion of the Guild of Cambridge Benefactors at a ceremony tonight (22 March) held at the University of Cambridge.


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