Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, whose mother has Alzheimer’s disease, is committing an additional $300 million to brain research.
In a press release, the Allen Institute for Brain Science said that Allen’s latest contribution will allow the organization to significantly expand its scientific programs. Like his fellow Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, Allen has a philanthropic bent.
This latest gift will bring Allen’s total commitment to the Allen Institute to $500 million. The organizations claims that the businessman has charged the organization with tackling some of the most fundamental and complex questions in brain science today.
The answers to these questions are essential for achieving a complete understanding of how the brain works, what goes wrong in brain-related diseases and disorders, and how best to treat them, according to the Institute.
“The accomplishments of the Institute have been truly remarkable,” Allen said in a prepared statement. “With its disciplined, mission-focused approach, the Institute has successfully tackled big-science projects, delivering tangible results that are helping to advance brain research around the world every day. I am excited to expand the scale and scope of the Institute’s efforts, and I look forward to seeing what we will accomplish in the future.”
During a press conference last month, Allen said that his funding of the Institute’s research wasn’t just driven by curiosity, according to The New York Times.
“As someone who has been touched by the impact of a neurodegenerative disease — my mother has Alzheimer’s — there’s both a fascination in basic research and the hope that we can move things forward,” The Times quoted Allen as saying.
Allen’s new $300 million contribution will support the first four years of a 10-year plan developed by the Allen Institute, which calls for a doubling of the organization’s staff.
During this period the goal will be to launch three new and complementary scientific initiatives that address questions that are critical to understanding how the brain works:
- How does the brain store, encode and process information?
- What are the cellular building blocks that underlie all brain function, and are often targets of disease?
- How do those cells develop, and then create the circuits that drive behavior, thought and brain dysfunction?
These initiatives are designed to produce knowledge of fundamental principles governing brain function, publicly sharable data, and new tools and technologies that will further accelerate progress across the global research community.
“Paul Allen’s generosity and bold vision have allowed us to build a unique organization and advance brain research in ways that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” Allan Jones, CEO of the Institute, said in a prepared statement.
“This new funding enables us to apply our structured, industrial-scale approach to science to tackle increasingly complex questions about how the brain works—questions that must be answered if we are to understand and treat autism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, traumatic brain injury and the myriad other brain-related diseases and disorders that affect all of us either directly or indirectly,” he said.
The Allen Institute will expand significantly, with plans to double its current staff to more than 350 employees over the next four years. Hiring has already started across all three initiatives.
The Allen Institute has already begun to assembling scientific leaders who will collaborate. They include Christof Koch, Ph.D., who joined the Allen Institute from Caltech in 2011 as chief scientific officer; R. Clay Reid, M.D., Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School; and Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., from Stanford University, who will start in the coming months.
They join the Allen Institute’s senior scientific director of research and development, Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D., who oversees the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas project and is already using the Allen Institute’s existing public data sets to begin classifying different cell populations.
Drs. Reid and Dolmetsch will contribute their respective expertise in neural coding and cell networks to a multidisciplinary conversation with Drs. Zeng and Koch, who is well known for integrating results from different neuroscientific disciplines to understand the complex computations and functions of the brain.
“The Allen Institute’s groundbreaking approach—the way that it conducts ‘big science’ in an ‘open science’ fashion—has been a game changer in neuroscience,” said Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics.
“From the accomplishment of the mouse and human brain atlases to this new work in the areas of neural coding and cell circuitry, the Allen Institute is making it possible for the world’s scientists to carve inroads in understanding and treating human brain impairments that otherwise would be decades away.”
Allen launched the Allen Institute with a seed contribution of $100 million, and based on the successful completion and impact of the Allen Mouse Brain Atlas and other early initiatives, has since contributed an additional $100 million.
The $300 million commitment announced today brings Allen’s cumulative investment to $500 million, making it one of the largest philanthropic commitments ever to fund neuroscience research.
The Allen Institute’s work has won awards from the Society for Neuroscience, the American Academy of Neurology, Time magazine and others.
The Allen Institute has been driving research forward since 2003 by systematically generating massive data sets — comprising a total of 1.3 petabytes to date — and translating them into online public resources. These resources, all openly available via the Allen Brain Atlas data portal at www.brain-map.org free of charge, have become essential resources for scientists around the globe — from graduate students to large-scale commercial labs.
All together, the Allen Institute’s online public resources receive about 50,000 visits each month, representing researchers from universities, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government laboratories and other research organizations across about 70 countries worldwide.