Canadian diamond pioneer donates $9.1 million for Alzheimer’s research

The quest to understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease is being bolstered intellectually and technologically thanks to three gifts to from Charles Fipke, whose geological discoveries made Canada one of the leading producers of diamonds.

Fipke has given $3 million to endow a professorship dedicated to Alzheimer’s research, and has pledged $600,000 to outfit the professor’s lab with cutting-edge equipment at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health. He has also committed $5.5 million to support the purchase of the most novel and coveted brain imaging technology.

Fipke, from Kelowna, was moved to make the gifts by the plight of his longtime friend, Bill Bennett, the former Premier of British Columbia, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. His son Brad expressed the Bennett family’s gratitude at a ceremony today honouring Fipke’s philanthropy to UBC.

“Our family is incredibly grateful to Chuck Fipke for this generous donation to Alzheimer’s research and we are very moved by his reasons for doing it,” Brad Bennett said. “The end game has to be to find a cure for this. We still don’t know what causes this disease and there are far too many people afflicted with it and far too many families like ours suffering the horrible consequences. They say with Alzheimer’s patients you say good-bye twice, the first of those being the most difficult because you’re saying good-bye to the person you knew and loved while they are still alive.”

UBC President Dr. Arvind Gupta said Fipke is putting UBC at the global forefront of Alzheimer’s research. “Investing in the most creative, dedicated and determined scientists, and putting the most sophisticated technology at their fingertips is the surest means to making breakthroughs against this disease,” Gupta said.

Dr. Haakon Nygaard, the new Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research, recently joined the Faculty of Medicine from the Yale School of Medicine, and will be seeing patients and conducting research here at the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health.

Fipke also pledged funds for a machine that combines positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The PET-MRI will enable Dr. Nygaard and other scientists to conduct studies that wouldn’t be possible using two machines separately.

“I was stunned to learn about Bill Bennett’s illness – yet another great mind stricken by Alzheimer’s,” Fipke said. “I want to do anything I can to help UBC’s researchers find a cure.”