U-M bipolar research aided by Prechter family's gift of up to $5M

Last Updated by Will Glover on
Heinz C. Prechter and his wife, Waltraud "Wally" Prechter.
Courtesy of the Prechter family

Originally appeared on MLive

By: Martin Slagter | mslagter@mlive.com 

ANN ARBOR, MI - For the family of the late entrepreneur Heinz Prechter, the fight to end the stigma associated with bipolar disorder did not end with his suicide in 2001.

The family hopes to eliminate that stigma and aid ongoing research efforts through a $5 million gift commitment that will create a new research program in the University of Michigan's Depression Center in Prechter's name, the university announced Monday, May 1.

The World Heritage Foundation - Prechter Family Fund will match every dollar given to UM bipolar disease research up to $5 million, doubling the value of every donation. Once the challenge is met, the Prechter family's total giving to UM bipolar research since Prechter's death will be more than $10 million.

Prechter's wife, Wally Prechter, said she and her family continue to work closely with UM and other research institutions to help other families who are confronting a disease that is often misunderstood in the public eye.

"I think we wanted to give (fundraising) another push to increase the participation of people in our study and the numbers we have there," Prechter said. "We've already got the largest comprehensive study (on bipolar research) in the nation, the way it is put together.

"My experiences kind of pushed me into this," she added. "Because of what we have in place at UM, I have every reason to hopeful we'll be able to find better solutions for those with bipolar disorder and their families."

The Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program will focus on personalizing treatment of bipolar disorder to prevent recurrences and to enable those living with bipolar disorder to lead healthy and productive lives, serving as the umbrella program over the Pretcher Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder and other bipolar research studies.

The new gift continues to put focus on growing the endowment for the continuation of the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder. The study allows researchers to track symptoms, response to treatment and overall health over time. More than 1,200 individuals have partnered with the research team to track personal and medical information for this long-term study.

Wally Prechter said the study has been instrumental in helping researchers understand the long-terms impacts and symptoms those with bipolar disorder have faced since it began in 2005. UM has since developed the world's first bipolar-specific stem cell lines while discovering new genetic links as the research continues.

"I think that has been the most important piece of the puzzle because they've been able to collect all of this data that tracks patterns and the clinical and environmental elements for over a decade," Prechter said. "We can study all of these differences and understand what makes people who have this illness different and determine how to customize treatment."

According to UM, bipolar disorder is a devastating, chronic mental illness with recurring episodes of mania (highs) and depression (lows). The illness causes unusual and dramatic shifts in mood, energy and behavior. Presently, 30 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder attempt suicide during their lives, and 20 percent die by suicide.

In 1967, Prechter secured a contract with Ford Motor Company to move his American Sunroof Company from Los Angeles to Detroit, installing sunroofs in Mercury Cougars.

In order to raise awareness the Prechter Family Fund provided support to Ride The Tiger  - A guide through the Bipolar brain.


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