Trio focuses on brain injury for new organization

December 30, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
There's a national effort under way to focus attention on brain injuries which involve a local vinter and former congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of the late Ted Kennedy.

Brain disease is intensely personal to Patrick Kennedy; his father was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

"Three years ago, I lost my father to brain cancer," Patrick Kennedy said.

Kennedy has teamed up on a project about brain disease with Napa Valley vintners Garren and Shari Staglin. Their son, Brandon, recovered from a 1990 diagnosis of mental illness called schizophrenia. It makes people unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

"We need to put brain science on an equal footing with cancer and AIDS research," said Garren Staglin.

The Staglins wanted to learn about their disease, so they created the International Mental Health Research Organization 17 years ago. They started holding fundraisers at their winery. The 2011 event raised more than $3 million for research. Now the Staglings and Kennedy are working on a new initiative, dubbed One Mind For Research, with a 10 year goal.

"We call this the race to inner space," said Kennedy.

Kennedy said it's a call for an urgent, national collaboration on brain disease and adds the effort is like the call by his late uncle, former Pres. John F. Kennedy 50 years ago to put a man on the moon and bring him home safely within a decade.

"We're saying we need to go to inner space and understand how the galaxy of neurons and our brains work in order for us to get to the therapy and cures that are going to relieve us from everything from autism to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, epilepsy," Kennedy said.

"We are working with UCSF, with UCLA, Harvard, with MIT, with voices all across the country," Staglin said. "We got them to come together and write a 10 year plan for neuroscience."

They believe everyone can benefit, from the thousands of soldiers with brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder, to the general public. The founders say it will create a super highway of information about the brain.

"We owe it to our veterans to do better by researching traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, so we can better take care of the people who took care of us and kept terrorism off our shores for the last 10 years," Kennedy said.

The Staglins were thanked by President Obama because their fundraisers and partnerships have raised a combined total of $135 million for mental health research.