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On The Shoulders of Giants: Soref Legacy Advances Neurological Discovery

For every significant advancement in the arts or sciences, there is an honor roll of individuals whose vision and contributions preceded the breakthroughs of succeeding generations. “If I have seen further,” Isaac Newton wrote in a 1675 letter to a fellow scientist, “it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

This axiom is particularly true in medical research where a single discovery can lead to an accumulation of new knowledge across several disciplines. It is that work – the achievements of those giants – that drives the innovations we see today in diagnosing, treating and curing diseases and injuries.

Daniel M. Soref, circa late 1950sThe late Daniel M. Soref exemplified this spirit. The Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust, founded after his death in 2001, has had a significant impact on the scientific, educational and cultural landscape of southeastern Wisconsin – and is leaving a legacy that will benefit the community for years to come.

Born in 1930, Mr. Soref was involved in the family business, Milwaukee’s Master Lock Company, serving as secretary of the company. The Soref families were among the founding families of Master Lock Company. Daniel Soref’s uncle, Harry E. Soref, was the inventor of the “lock” and Daniel’s father, Samuel M. Soref, was board chair. (Pictured right: Daniel M. Soref, circa late 1950's)

Since his death from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust has made significant contributions to advance neurological research with the aim of improving care for patients with disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

For the past two decades, contributions from the Trust have supported work at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Froedtert Hospital that is pushing the boundaries of neurological discovery through research projects and programs that ground clinicians and scientists in the neurosciences.

One of the Trust’s earliest contributions established the Daniel M. Soref Clinical Neuroscience Fellowship for physicians and researchers working at MCW and Froedtert Hospital. The gift allows fellows to pursue new research, work with senior physician scientists and prepare findings for presentations at national conferences – a major source for disseminating new scientific knowledge.

“The Daniel M. Soref Clinical Neuroscience Fellowship provides an outstanding opportunity to earn valuable research experience in a field that is really in need of ongoing investments to train new specialists and scientists,” says Ann Helms, MD, MS, professor and interim chair of the MCW department of neurology. “The fellows advance the field during their tenure and often go on to serve as leaders in their respective disciplines.”

Not only does Dr. Helms see the impact the fellowship program has from her vantage point as a faculty leader, but she also had direct experience as the inaugural Daniel M. Soref Clinical Neuroscience Fellow.

Ann Helms, MD, MS“Receiving the fellowship award at that stage of my career as a physician and researcher was an important step in shaping my career as an academic today,” says Dr. Helms (pictured left). “Research experience is critically important to all in academic medicine who wish to develop and provide innovative care, teach the next generation of physicians and researchers and work in an environment of scientific inquiry.”

The opportunities for the current generation of Daniel M. Soref Neuroscience Fellows are just as critical in advancing science and clinical care.

The most recent Soref Fellow is Jessica Pommy, PhD, MS, whose research focuses on dementia – particularly on initiatives related to improving early diagnosis.

Dr. Pommy is an expert in cognitive neuroimaging analysis, a technology which gives scientists and clinicians detailed images of brain activity. Her work is aimed at assessing patients who are showing signs of mild cognitive impairment, which is often a precursor to other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. If successful, this research could improve predictions of which patients might be at risk of experiencing further cognitive decline. Diagnosing patients at this stage of disease progression is a key priority for researchers and clinicians who are working to understand how Alzheimer’s disease develops and spreads in the brain.

Daniel M. Soref, circa 1968“These studies can help us identify early predictors of cognitive decline which potentially can point to new treatment targets for patients with mild cognitive impairment,” Dr. Pommy says. “With earlier interventions, one hopes to slow neurodegenerative disease processes before symptoms are impacting a patient’s daily life.”

(Pictured right: Daniel M. Soref, circa 1968)

The promise that imaging holds for understanding a broad range of diseases and injuries also led to a significant gift that established the Daniel M. Soref Imaging Research Facility. Work by researchers using the imaging technology housed at the Facility covers a broad area of exploration including cardiovascular imaging, which can be used in early detection of several disease states such as cardiomyopathies, heart failure and coronary artery disease.

Technology at the Facility also gives physicians the ability to apply innovative imaging techniques to diagnose and monitor individual patients with a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including brain tumors, stroke, epilepsy, drug abuse and Alzheimer's disease.

The gift was divided between an endowed fund and a current use fund that support maintaining the in-use high-quality imaging equipment, as well as individual research projects led by physicians and scientists.

Kevin Koch, PhD, professor and co-vice chair of research in the MCW department of radiology and director of the Center for Imaging Research, is grateful for the investments received through the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust.

“With these contributions, we have the ability to compete with other programs around the country that are focused on an array of disease states, including projects that are advancing medical discovery in the fields of cancer and the neurosciences,” Dr. Koch shares.

In addition to the gifts supporting science, the breadth and depth of contributions from the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust to more than 70 grantees has bolstered the civic, educational and cultural life of Milwaukee. Among the Organizations that have benefitted are Milwaukee Public Museum, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee, Hunger Task Force, Harry & Rose Samson Jewish Community Center, Milwaukee Jewish Federation agencies and organizations serving the homeless and needy.

Together with gifts advancing the neurosciences, this broad support reflects the values and deep commitment that the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust has in building a strong and healthy community. And they also represent the vision Daniel M. Soref had for leaving a giant-sized legacy that is benefitting all of us.

– John McGreevy