This Science Funder Is Doubling Down on Brain Research

The surge of funding into brain research is one of the most intriguing trends in philanthropy, and we track this giving closely. Why? Because the scientific questions are fascinating and the stakes are enormous, as aging societies acround the world struggle with a devastating rise in neurodegenerative diseases.

So we were excited when the Kavli Foundation announced $100 million in new support for the neurosciences. Kavli has emerged as a key funder in several scientific areas since its establishment just 15 years ago, and with this step, it has further cemented its reputation as a major partner of top-tier universities and research institutions.

Kavli recently announced its commitment of the funding partnerships with three universities to enable basic research into the brain and brain disorders, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, autism, and traumatic brain injuries, among others.

The majority of the funds will establish three new Kavli neuroscience instituteslocated at Johns Hopkins University, Rockefeller University and University of California, San Francisco. The three new Kavli neuroscience institutes join an international network of seven others the foundation previously launched.

The give is in keeping with one of the most important legs of Kavli's strategy to support basic research: the creation of specialized institutes housed at its university partners. The foundation funds the institutes at major universities and research centersmostly in the U.S., but a couple abroad, as wellwith matching funding from the institutions. Kavli's cash has enabled the creation of about 20 such institutes, which focus on astrophysics, nanoscience, neuroscience and theoretical physics.

Among other activities, the new funding supports the study of neural development, neuronal plasticity, perception and cognition, new research technologies, and brain plasticity. Each of the new institutes will receive a $20 million endowment, supported equally by their universities and the foundation, along with start-up funding.

Of course, the brain is a pretty mysterious organ, so an important element of the Kavli funding will go toward study and development of new technologies and methods to enable scientists to understand how we think, remember and learncentral goals in the national program Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN), a public and private initiative launched by President Obama in 2013.

We've written before about the Kavli Foundation's leadership in the BRAIN program. Although the foundation has long supported neuroscience research, its national profile got a boost when Miyoung Chun, its executive vice president of science programs, was asked by the Obama administration to take on a key strategic role in BRAIN.

Kavli is also well known in science circles for its funding of professorships at several universities, and for the Kavli Prize, which recognizes scientists for important work in the fields Kavli focuses onand which includes a check for a tidy $1 million.  

The foundation is also boosting its investment in institutes at four other partner universities: Columbia University, the University of California-San Diego, Yale University, and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.