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$4 million Picower Foundation gift supports neuroscience innovation at MIT

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Restoring and disrupting memories by flashing brain cells with lasers, creating animals whose symptoms mimic schizophrenia and dissecting the genetic basis for language learning are among the cutting-edge projects at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT to be funded with a new $4 million gift from The Picower Foundation.

The gift launches the Picower Institute Innovation Fund, which will provide support to Picower Institute faculty members for innovative or high-risk neuroscience research activities. Funds also will be used to seed a new facility geared toward enabling the use of viruses to deliver genes to neurons--a powerful research tool for neuroscientists.

"This flexible source of funding is designed to promote faculty investigation into areas not usually funded by traditional sources," said Mark F. Bear, director of the Picower Institute and Picower Professor of Neuroscience. "The history of science teaches us that the key ingredients for major scientific breakthroughs are a creative and collegial faculty, excellent infrastructure and flexible funding for 'blue sky' projects. Thanks to the wonderful environment at MIT and the continuing support of The Picower Foundation, all these pieces are now in place."

"Jeffry and Barbara Picower's far-reaching vision of expanding the reaches of neuroscience is bolstered by their most recent gift to MIT," said Marc A. Kastner, dean of the MIT School of Science and Donner Professor of Science. "We're confident that this continuing partnership will result in significant advances in understanding, detecting and treating brain disease and injury."     

"Drawing on more than 16 years of grantmaking experience in medical research, The Picower Foundation recognizes that private funding can and should support innovative research and promote meaningful collaboration among scientists. Unfortunately, public funding remains inadequate and has damaging effects," said Barbara Picower, president and trustee of The Picower Foundation. "To make matters worse, the limited pool of funding has encouraged conservative science both in terms of the research proposals submitted and those accepted by public-funding agencies. As a result, talented scientists at PILM and elsewhere spend more time applying for grants and less time doing science, particularly exciting novel work. We believe that by supporting Picower scientists in their quest to do innovative, high-risk science, we will achieve high returns. The innovation fund is an excellent way to achieve great results."

"Creating The Picower Institute was a visionary act of philanthropy. Barbara and Jeffry Picower's unstinting support of The Picower Institute over nearly a decade has been critically important to scientific progress at MIT and to advancing the field of neuroscience as a whole," said MIT President Susan Hockfield. "Their continued commitment will deepen our understanding of the biological basis of learning and memory and will accelerate the search for new ways to alleviate devastating neurological disorders such as autism and Alzheimer's disease."

In 2002, The Picower Foundation made the first single largest gift from a private foundation in MIT's history, establishing the Picower Center for Learning and Memory, renamed the Picower Institute in 2005.

The Picower Foundation

The Picower Foundation was founded in 1989 with a mission to promote innovation in medical research, excellence in education and the protection of human rights in the U.S. To do so, the Foundation helps underserved populations by providing them with opportunities to reach their full potential; supports prevention rather than remediation to address social issues; funds organizations that are results-oriented and holds these organizations accountable to increase their effectiveness and achieve results.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 2008 (download PDF).

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