Using Technology Licensing Office resources generated by the entrepreneurial output of its faculty and research staff, MIT has established a professorship honoring one of the nation's leading innovators and philanthropists-Cecil H. Green, the 1923 MIT graduate who was a founder of Geophysical Services, Inc., predecessor of Texas Instruments, Inc., of Dallas.
The first holder of the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professorship is Richard J. Wurtman, MD, professor of neuropharmacology in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and director of the MIT Clinical Research Center.
MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who announced the creation of the chair and Dr. Wurtman's appointment, said Mr. Green "is the perfect individual to be honored by the entrepreneurial activities of other MIT colleagues. He is one of MIT's leading benefactors in his own right, and he has been one of our most outstanding innovators as well."
Dr. Wurtman's appointment, Professor Wrighton said, "is most appropriate, considering his distinguished record of academic achievement coupled with his innovative contributions to human health."
Dr. Wurtman has been at the forefront of pioneering research that has established a strong link between the level of neurotransmitters-chemicals that carry signals in the brain-and a variety of conditions ranging from Alzheimer's disease to Seasonal Affective Disorder. He has published more than 900 papers in his field.
In the last few years, Dr. Wurtman and his colleagues have revealed that acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter abundantly present in the cortex of healthy subjects, but absent in sufficient quantities in the brains of Alzheimer's disease victims, controls the formation of a protein which the brain can convert into fragments that disrupt brain function. The finding may hold the promise of a new treatment for the disease.
In another area, a recent publication of Dr. Wurtman and his colleagues reported that the hormone melatonin, secreted by the body at night, can induce sleep when given in low doses during daylight hours. The discovery suggests that very low oral doses of melatonin, which do not present the side effects that accompany many sedatives, may become a useful drug for the treatment of insomnia.
The philanthropy of Mr. Green, a Life Member emeritus of the MIT Corporation, and his late wife Ida, has played a major role in the development of educational and medical institutions across the United States and the world. At MIT, they have donated millions of dollars for purposes that include two buildings, nine endowed professorships and a fellowship program for women graduate students. They gave their names to the 20-story Cecil and Ida Green Building, which houses the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, and to Ida Flansbergh Green Hall, MIT's first residence for women graduate students. The Green Center for Physics, a major renovation project, will provide new facilities for the Department of Physics under a $6 million gift from Mr. Green.
Asked not long ago why he has been such a generous supporter of MIT and other institutions, Mr. Green replied: "I have always said I liked to work with the best and make the best even better. I try to make it a better world-to `justify our existence.' That's the way my wife used to put it." Robert C. Di Iorio
A version of this article appeared in the August 17, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 2).