Caregiver turned “CEO for a Day” goes behind the scenes at Alzheimer’s Institute

Francine Shebell, Dave Morgan, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, CEO for a Day

Francine Shebell, winner of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute's "CEO for a Day" online auction fundraiser, with Institute CEO Dave Morgan, PhD

Francine Shebell, a retired attorney from St. Petersburg, recently got a glimpse of the inner workings of the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, one of the world’s largest freestanding centers dedicated to research, education and treatment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.   Shebell’s husband Peter suffers from Alzheimer’s.

Shebell won the Institute’s online auction to be “CEO for a Day,” a fundraiser held in April to benefit the Center for Memory C.A.R.E.  On Friday, May 18, she spent the day alongside the Institute’s official CEO Dave Morgan, PhD., who navigated Shebell through a behind-the-scenes look at the facility and its basic science and translational research.

In addition to meeting with researchers and staff in the laboratory and reviewing new plans for volunteer opportunities, Shebell attended a meeting of all the institute’s faculty investigators and postdoctoral students.  The institute’s researchers are studying changes in the brain that cause dementia and working to develop new approaches for the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s; many are supported in part by National Institutes of Health funding.

Kevin Nash, Francine Shebell, Dave Morgan, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute

Kevin Nash, PhD, who studies gene therapy approaches to Alzheimer's disease, pulls up an image on the computer monitor for Shebell and Dr. Morgan.

 ”The whole day was fascinating, and I left feeling hopeful”  Shebell said. “I learned that you need to get rid of the abnormal amyloid and the tau (hallmark proteins associated with Alzheimer’s).  Ultimately there will probably need to be cocktail approach to combating Alzheimer’s,  one drug won’t cure it.”

Shebell is all too familiar with the struggles families face when caring for a loved one battling Alzheimer’s; her husband began displaying signs of dementia after the couple moved to Florida in 2006.

“It took me several years to accept that Peter had dementia, but then I was referred to the Byrd Institute and saw Dr. Amanda Smith, medical director for the Institute,” Shebell said. “Dr. Smith diagnosed Peter with Alzheimer’s and gave me the strength to deal with this new chapter in my life.”

Francine Shebell, Kevin Nash, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute

Shebell, a caregiver whose husband suffers from Alzheimer's, listens as Dr. Nash talks about the inflammatory process in the brain.

Dave Morgan, Francine Shebell, Edwin Weeber, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute

Ed Weeber, PhD, (right) the institute's scientific director, discusses new research initiatives with Dr. Morgan and Shebell.

Francine Shebell, Dave Morgan, USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, CEO for a Day

"We're trying to find approaches in the lab we can move into the clinic to slow down the disease process," Dr. Morgan tells Shebell.

 Photos by Eric Younghans/USF Health Communications