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A brother’s struggle inspires new Alzheimer’s and dementia research collaboration

After watching his twin brother lose a 15-year fight with the memory-robbing illness, Dan Epstein decided to do something about it. The result: an unprecedented research collaboration between USC and UC San Diego.

Daniel and Phyllis Epstein
USC Trustee Daniel Epstein and his wife, Phyllis, have been regular donors to USC. (Photo/Courtesy of Daniel and Phyllis Epstein)

USC Trustee Daniel J. Epstein knows firsthand how Alzheimer’s disease impacts families. His brother and identical twin, David Epstein, passed away in December after living 15 years with the memory-robbing illness.

“The experience of watching the progression of his illness and seeing the effect that it had on all of us — his family, his wife, his children, his grandchildren — gave me a close-up view of the most challenging aspects of the disease,” Epstein said.

“Unless you’re one of the lucky few, someone in your family will have Alzheimer’s or dementia. It’s a given. And the consequences of it are so far-reaching and it’s so debilitating to the families.”

Unless you’re one of the lucky few, someone in your family will have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Dan Epstein,, USC trustee and donor

He decided to do something about it.

He and his wife, Phyllis, launched the Epstein Family Alzheimer’s Research Collaboration at USC and University of California, San Diego, with a $50 million gift and a challenge. Each university will receive $25 million – and each must raise an additional $25 million to match.

“The [resulting] $100 million would put us in a position to launch an effort that I think will be unequaled,” Epstein said. “And perhaps, in the next few years, we’ll be able to see some tangible results.”

The gift embodies Dan Epstein’s optimism and his confidence that people working together always come up with something better than those working solo.

“One plus one equals three,” he likes to say. “Everything we do is a collaborative effort. I have never claimed to be the Lone Ranger. It’s always been a team effort.”

Dan Epstein, who earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in 1962, has served as a USC trustee for two decades. He is the founder of the San Diego-based ConAm group of companies.

Last fall, the Epsteins gave a $25 million cumulative gift for the USC Viterbi School to support faculty recruitment for industrial and systems engineering and growth in artificial intelligence and computational systems.

In spring 2021, the Epstein family gave $10 million to launch the RAND Epstein Family Veterans Policy Research Institute with USC – another collaboration – to explore problems facing veterans, including homelessness.

With the Alzheimer’s gift, Epstein joins a small cadre of USC donors whose lifetime giving exceeds $100 million.

This continuation of Dan’s philanthropic legacy is all that more profound because it is so personal — an extension of his love for his brother.

Carol L. Folt, USC president

“Dan Epstein has been a wonderful friend and champion of USC for many years, with countless hours of service and incredibly generous gifts,” said USC President Carol L. Folt. “This continuation of Dan’s philanthropic legacy is all that more profound because it is so personal – an extension of his love for his brother.

“In creating an ongoing, fruitful collaboration between USC and UC San Diego Alzheimer’s researchers, we’re going to see exponential progress in fighting this terrible disease. We are so grateful to have Dan and his family helping us address one of society’s greatest challenges.”

A difficult experience brings resolve and Alzheimer’s, dementia research partnership

As his brother’s Alzheimer’s symptoms progressed, Dan Epstein shared the frustration of so many loved ones over the lack of meaningful treatments or a cure.

The FDA approved Aduhelm last summer, making it the first new Alzheimer’s drug since 2003. But some patients experience severe side effects, and scientists disagree on whether it is effective in improving cognition. Some large health care providers have declined to provide it to patients.

“The only thing out there is Aricept, and that’s a treatment to help delay the onslaught of memory loss, but it’s temporary,” said Epstein, who cited a dearth of effective therapies.

Dissatisfied with the available options, Epstein sought the expertise of friends in San Diego’s tight-knit scientific community. He learned that Howard Feldman of UC San Diego was looking at repurposing existing drugs for Alzheimer’s. Paul Aisen, director of USC’s Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute in San Diego, was leading worldwide clinical trials of potential treatments.

To have UC San Diego and USC work together to achieve the same goal, that’s like manna from heaven.

Dan Epstein, USC trustee and donor

“I thought, ‘We have all this talent at UC San Diego and we have people at USC that are doing cutting-edge research,’” Epstein said. “It would seem to me, if we could put them together … solutions will develop as a result of sharing ideas.”

He discussed the matter with Folt and UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla, both of whom loved the idea and worked together to create a proposal. Epstein said, “Without the input of Carol and Pradeep, it never would have gotten across the finish line. The two major universities put something together that holds so much promise.

“I am extraordinarily happy to be a catalyst in our being able to move ahead and hopefully achieve something noteworthy in the not-too-distant future,” Epstein said.

“To have UC San Diego and USC work together to achieve the same goal, that’s like manna from heaven.”

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A brother’s struggle inspires new Alzheimer’s and dementia research collaboration

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