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Johnnie Byrd Alzheimer's Center at USF hopes for last-minute funding

TALLAHASSEE — In the $66.5 billion state budget that printed was Tuesday, there is no money for the Johnnie B. Byrd Sr. Alzheimer's Center and Research Institute in Tampa.

Officials had been seeking at least $5 million in state funding after getting nothing last year, warning that their lucrative federal designation as an Alzheimer's research center is in jeopardy.

"The lack of funding puts the whole project in doubt," said Michael Hoad, vice president of communications at the University of South Florida, where the center is located.

The renewal application for Alzheimer's disease research center status was due Tuesday. Hoad said they sent it in overnight mail, knowing the critical funding was in doubt. Better to play off last-minute hopes, he said.

Even though the budget is printed, there could be opportunities for funding before the end of the fiscal year in June, as budget reconciliation discussions are held, and lawmakers account for any vetoes by Gov. Charlie Crist.

As a designated Alzheimer research center, the institute gets a five-year, $7.5 million grant, access to national research, the prestige to attract top researchers, clinical trials and more.

Institute chief executive Stephen Klasko said last month that "you have no chance of getting (the designation) with no state funding."

The Byrd Institute opened in 2007 with $15 million in annual state funding as the vision of former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, whose father died of Alzheimer's in 1998. Last year, when a deal was cut to affiliate the institute with USF, no money was allocated. In the fall, the institute laid off 19 workers and cut other expenses.

Dr. Klasko has said the institute has $8 million in reserves, and thinks that could last less than a year.

"Right now, the equation is really very bad," Hoad said. "It's simply running through the money it had from the days when it was well funded."

There was some good news for the Byrd Institute on Tuesday. Legislation putting its relationship with USF into state statute, which had failed to pass both chambers, was inserted into a part of the budget package. That should open up funding opportunities, said Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, who has worked hard in recent weeks to secure funding for the institute.

Johnnie Byrd Alzheimer's Center at USF hopes for last-minute funding 05/05/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 10:45pm]
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