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New Weill Neurohub will unite UCSF, UC Berkeley, UW in race to find new treatments for brain diseases

Tuesday, November 12, 2019 - 11:30

Original article by UW News. Photo credit to UC San Francisco.

With a $106 million gift from the Weill Family Foundation, UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and the University of Washington have launched the Weill Neurohub, an innovative research network that will forge and nurture new collaborations between neuroscientists and researchers working in an array of other disciplines — including engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry and mathematics — to speed the development of new therapies for diseases and disorders that affect the brain and nervous system.

A 2016 study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimated that, in the U.S. alone, neurological and psychiatric disorders and diseases — including Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s; anxiety and depression; traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury; multiple sclerosis; ALS; and schizophrenia — carry an economic cost of more than $1.5 trillion per year, nearly 9 percent of GDP.

“The gains in knowledge amassed by neuroscientists over the past few decades can now be brought to the next level with supercomputers, electronic brain–computer interfaces, nanotechnology, robotics and powerful imaging tools,” said philanthropist Sanford I. “Sandy” Weill, chairman of the Weill Family Foundation. “The Neurohub will seize this opportunity by building bridges between people with diverse talents and training and bringing them together in a common cause: discovering new treatments to help the millions of patients with such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease and mental illness.”

Complementing the strengths of UCSF, Berkeley and the UW, the Weill Neurohub will draw on the expertise and resources of the 17 National Laboratories overseen by the Department of Energy, which excel in bioengineering, imaging, and data science. In August 2019, the Weill Family Foundation and the DOE signed a Memorandum of Understanding creating a new public–private partnership. The partnership is exploring the use of the Department’s artificial intelligence and supercomputing capabilities, in conjunction with Bay Area universities and the private sector, to advance the study of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and neurodegenerative diseases.

The Weill Neurohub will enable the three universities to work together on these pressing problems. For example, the UW and UCSF, renowned research universities with long traditions of excellence in basic neuroscience research, also have federally sponsored Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, or ADRCs. Through the Weill Neurohub, members of the UW’s ARDC, part of the UW Medicine Memory and Brain Wellness Center, and UCSF’s ADRC, led by the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, will collaborate with top neurodegeneration researchers at Berkeley.

The Weill Neurohub will provide funding for faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students at the UW, Berkeley and UCSF working on cross-disciplinary projects, including funding for “high-risk/high-reward” proposals that are particularly innovative and less likely to find support through conventional funding sources. But the bulk of the Weill Neurohub’s funding will support highly novel cross-institutional projects built on one or more of four scientific “pillars” that Weill Neurohub leaders have deemed priority areas for answering the toughest questions about the brain and discovering new approaches to disease: imaging; engineering; genomics and molecular therapeutics; and computation and data analytics.

UCSF's Stephen Hauser will serve as one of two co-directors of the new Weill Neurohub along with Berkeley’s Ehud “Udi” Isacoff, the Evan Rauch Chair of Neuroscience. Together with Tom Daniel, the Joan and Richard Komen Endowed Chair and professor of biology at the UW, they will serve on the Weill Neurohub’s Leadership Committee.

“In the Weill Neurohub, the emphasis will be on technology to enable discovery of disease mechanisms, and thus development of novel treatments and early detection of neurologic diseases, to allow intervention before conditions become severe,” said Isacoff, who heads Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “The technologies include next-generation neuroimaging and therapeutic manipulations ranging from brain implants to CRISPR gene editing, with major efforts in machine learning and high-speed computation. I think these three campuses can succeed in this joint mission in a way that no others can — the combined expertise this group brings to the table, especially when you bring in the National Labs, really is unparalleled.”

The UW’s Daniel added, “The Weill Neurohub brings together three outstanding public institutions, each with a deep commitment to bridge boundaries between science, engineering, computer science and data science to address fundamental problems in neuroscience and neural disorders. To my knowledge, this is a nationally unique enterprise — drawing on diverse approaches to accomplish goals no single institution could reach alone, as well as seeding and accelerating research and discovery.”


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