A brainstorm that paid off

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It’s easily the funnest part of showing out-of-town visitors the modernization of downtown Las Vegas…the drive-by of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

“What the heck is that?” is usually the most mild response. I’ve also heard, “Did a bomb go off in there?” and “Did the aliens sneak out of Area 51?”

But as first-timers continue to gawk at this miracle of modern architecture designed by Frank Gehry, who has been called our greatest living architect, they quickly come around to an appreciation of the beauty and brilliance of the building.

Some consider it a representation of the human brain in need of repair or healing. If that was Gehry’s original intent — and he’s never quite said —then it truly is a masterpiece.

This month, the Ruvo Center celebrated its 10th anniversary, yet another reminder of how fast time flies when you’re not paying close enough attention. As dozens of dignitaries attended the ceremony, like past and current mayors Oscar and Carolyn Goodman, who were instrumental in its building and sustenance, and soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis, who made a generous donation on behalf of his team, all marveled at the advances the Center has made.

With the ageing of the population and life expectancy expanding year by year, the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s and related diseases is increasing proportionately. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia. Current estimates are that about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The number of people living with Alzheimer’s doubles every year beyond age 65. By 2050 this number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million people, a nearly three-fold increase.

It’s hard to imagine a more relevant facility than the one conceived of and built by Las Vegas patron Larry Ruvo. As a lifelong resident who has given back tenfold to a community from which he has derived financial success, Ruvo has never wavered in pushing the boundaries of research and care that his facility has promised, which led to his partnership with the esteemed Cleveland Clinic several years ago. The old joke that the best place for a Las Vegan to go for medical care was McCarran Airport no longer has any punch.

Among the speakers at the anniversary ceremony was Center director Marwan Sabbagh, who noted that the Ruvo Center has pioneered several studies in preventive care for neurodegenerative diseases in the last decade. Four clinical trials in prevention have been conducted, using methods such as genetic risk analysis and brain scans to increase the possibilities that doctors could intervene before a disease can form.

Sabbagh said, “In looking ahead to the next 10 years it is our hope that Alzheimer’s can be transformed from a terminal to a chronic disease, and that a blood test will be developed to diagnose it early.” He emphasized that the Center’s core mission will remain giving families and caregivers as much care as the individual suffering from the disease.

Dr. Le Hua, director of the Mellen Program for Multiple Sclerosis, reported that the greatest accomplishment in her six years at the center has been increasing involvement in clinical studies that develop new drugs and other treatments for the disease. Through these trials patients are able to contribute to the advancement of their own care.

The Ruvo Center provides expert diagnosis and treatment for individuals and families living with a range of diseases: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s; multiple sclerosis, frontotemporal dementia and related disorders; and multiple system atrophy.

It’s remarkable to think that one man, Larry Ruvo, who watched his beloved father suffering the effects of a degenerative brain disorder, could rally an entire community behind finding solutions to these diseases, but he has done just that over the last decade and a half.

So when I get that inevitable question from visitors, “What the heck is that?” as we pass by that “crushed can” building, it’s always a pleasure to tell them the story.

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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