The University of Washington will share in a $106 million philanthropic gift to spur neuroscience research into brain diseases and disorders.
UW, the University of California (UC) Berkeley and UC San Francisco are joining together to launch the Weill Neurohub, a collaborative research network, according to a news release from the universities.
The Weill Family Foundation, which is operated by former Wall Street financier Sandy Weill and his wife, Joan Weill, provided the money.
The funding grows Seattle’s reputation as a neuroscience hotbed and will allow UW researchers to pursue novel research of some of the world’s most confounding and difficult diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
Tom Daniel, a UW professor in biology and neuroscience, said the philanthropic gift was “transformative,” and would “accelerate discovery” and spur collaboration between the three universities.
Funding for the Weill Neurohub will be available to faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students at the universities, and will focus on novel, early-stage research of diseases and disorders, Daniel said.
Whereas government support of research often tends to funnel money to projects where there is strong preliminary research data, the Neurohub will focus on innovation and less proven avenues of scientific inquiry.
“This is where philanthropy can do magic,” said Daniel, who is on the board of directors at the Allen Institute and will serve on Weill Neurohub’s Leadership Committee.
“This is not an initiative that allows for intellectual risk-taking, but that actually encourages it,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce, who is also on the committee. “The idea is to create a funding mechanism that can be quicker, that can be more flexible and that can allow room for serendipity.”
The results of early-stage research can be leveraged for government funding aimed at a “more mature level of science,” Cauce said.
Possible projects include developing more advanced neuroimaging tools that would produce higher-resolution images and rely on artificial intelligence for improved computing power.
Daniel said the Neurohub money also could help develop less-invasive brain implantation tools to better record or stimulate brain functions.
The Neurohub leadership team plans to consider and fund initial projects within the next few months.
“We want to get out of the gates running and rolling right away,” Daniel said.
He said local patients, UW students and the state’s economy will ultimately benefit from the gift as the Seattle area grows as a hub for neuroscience research.
Cauce said the project will make progress on mental-health diseases and disorders that have been “stigmatized and ignored,” like schizophrenia.
Weill Neurohub has an agreement with the federal Department of Energy, and may rely on the department for its artificial intelligence and supercomputing technology, according to the news release.
Sandy Weill is an investor who was once the chairman of Citigroup. Joan Weill is a longtime philanthropist. The couple has given more than $300 million to neuroscience studies, the news release said.