Pietro Vichi "Pete" Domenici, a longtime advocate for brain research and mental health, announced on Thursday that he would retire from the U.S. Senate after 35 years, citing health issues including early dementia.
Domenici, 75, co-sponsored legislation leading to the joint resolution declaring the 1990's the Decade of the Brain and its accompanying increase in funding, as well as legislation in 1996 to increase health insurance coverage for mental illnesses.
He has spoken of his daughter Clare's schizophrenia; including an interview with the New York Times in 2002. Another daughter is a psychologist.
“Senator Domenici was a steadfast friend for people with mental illness in the U.S. and a far-seeing supporter of the neuroscience research that it will take to conquer these disorders,” said Harvard provost Steven E. Hyman, who served as director of the National Institute of Mental Health from 1996 to 2001.
A fact sheet prepared for Domenici's announcement described his disease as Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration. It is third most common cause of cortical dementia behind Alzheimer's disease and Lewy body disease.
Domenici said that during a checkup in late September doctors saw a slight progression, and he then decided not to seek a seventh term in the Senate. He will serve out his current term, which expires in January 2009.
"No cure for my disease exists, yet," he said in a prepared statement. "But, if we work hard enough, we may be able to find a way to cure people with diseases of the brain in the future. That would be truly a wonderful thing."