Estate of UC mega-donor gifts $13.5M to fund ALS research

Hugh Hoffman spent a considerable portion of the fortune he amassed during his life supporting his beloved University of Cincinnati.

Now, almost a year to the date of his passing, the UC alum continues to make major contributions to the school and its affiliated health care system – this time to a cause near and dear to him for much of his adult life.

On Monday, the University of Cincinnati Foundation and UC Health issued a joint release announcing the Hoffman estate had gifted $13.5 million to the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute to help revolutionize research and patient care related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS is a nervous system disorder that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and causes loss of muscle control. Eventually, the disease affects the control of a person’s muscles, limiting – and eventually ending – their ability to walk, speak, eat and breathe on their own.

Hoffman, who died in March 2023 at the age of 91, donated to several ALS-related organizations and causes during his lifetime, including the Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic.

“We wanted to honor our uncle’s legacy and his intentional long-time support of families impacted by ALS and the Greater Cincinnati community,” Hoffman’s nephews, Bert and Steve Bullock, co-executors of his estate, wrote in a statement. “We’re confident that UC and UC Health have the talent, leadership and vision to transform the future of research and care of ALS.”

Looking for a cure

Despite new treatments and research, there’s still no cure for ALS. More than 5,600 individuals in the United States are diagnosed each year, or roughly 15 new cases every day, according to ALS United Ohio.

“Of all the neurological diseases that we know of today, ALS is likely the cruelest and the area in which we have witnessed the least progress in a century of science,” said Dr. Robert Neel, director of UC’s ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic. “Balancing the daily medical care of patients who are slowly being robbed of their motor function while looking for answers to stop the disease is an urgent priority.”

To Hoffman, ALS was more than research and statistics. It was personal. He watched as his own father, Herbert, endured a brutal battle with the disease.

“I think Mr. Hoffman’s personal connection highlights the impact of watching someone suffer with this disease,” added Neel, a specialist in ALS and autoimmune neuromuscular disorders.

“It will change you,” he added. “This gift is about service and taking care of your fellow human beings.”

Lifetime of support for UC community

The act of giving was something Hoffman had done all of his life.

After graduating from Yale University, he returned to his hometown of Cincinnati to work and earn his MBA at UC in 1963. While he found success in the business world, Hoffman also took hold of his family’s tradition of giving back. Their support of UC spans multiple generations, dating back to Hoffman’s grandparents, Fanny and Casper Rowe. The couple began giving to the university in 1930 and established a scholarship fund in 1954.

During his life, Hoffman donated to many causes – from support to student-athletes to scholarships for business students. In September 2023, Hoffman’s estate bequeathed $56 million to UC, the largest donation to scholarships in the school’s 200-plus-year history.

This most recent gift – the second-largest in the history of the Gardner Neuroscience Institute – has the potential to have a “climate-changing” impact for those with their disease and their loved ones, Neel said.

Dr. Robert Neel discusses the donation with a picture of the late Hugh Hoffman in the background. (UC Health)

Hoffman’s gift will support things such as additional clinical support services for ALS patients, including wraparound care from a group of nurse practitioners, therapists, nutritionists and social workers.

The funds will also go toward the creation of a pair of endowed chair positions, including a clinical neurologist specializing in ALS-focused patient care and clinical needs. Pending approval by UC’s board of trustees, Neel will assume that position.

The ALS Clinic will also receive a new research chair who’ll concentrate on both the cause of the disease and identifying new potential treatments.

Dr. Andrew T. Filak Jr., senior vice president for health affairs and dean of the UC College of Medicine, described the Hoffman estate gift as a way to “dramatically expand our scholarly focus on this disease.”

“This gift permits UC to recruit a national leader to bring their talents and research to our region and advance scientific knowledge,” he added.

A lasting impact at UC – and beyond

Together, Hoffman’s $56 million bequest and this $13.5 million donation represent one of the most significant gifts in the history of UC and UC Health.

In honor of Hoffman’s generosity, UC Health plans to rename the clinic the Hugh H. Hoffman ALS/Motor Neuron Disease Multidisciplinary Clinic.

With approval, the clinic will become the third named center at the institute made possible through philanthropy, following behind the James J. and Joan A. Gardner Family Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders and the Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis.

Hoffman’s most recent gift to UC will engrain his name on the walls at his alma mater for decades to come. But while the dollars haven’t yet been spent on any pharmaceutical trials or research, the impact of his gift is already being felt.

An ALS patient receives care through UC Health. (UC Health)

On Sunday, a day before Hoffman’s donation first made headlines, his nephew Bert and Neel, shared the news with a group of ALS patients and their families from across the region.

They’d all gathered together at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – less than a mile from the Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s home on Bellevue Avenue – for a special event held for them by the Hoffman family.

“Mr. Hoffman’s generosity builds a legacy of patient care (that will last) for generations,” Neel said.

University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute

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