MIT Gets Big Brain-Research Donation

In one of the largest gifts ever to a U.S. university, a high-tech couple will give $350 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to found a new brain research center. The new institute, announced today by MIT President Charles Vest, will be led by Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp, a molecular biologist.

The donors behind the new McGovern Institute for Brain Research are Patrick and Lore Harp McGovern. Patrick McGovern is an MIT alumnus who studied neuroscience and later founded the International Data Group, a $2.6 billion computer publishing company that produces nearly 300 magazine titles worldwide, including PC World. Lore Harp McGovern is a computer entrepreneur who has chaired the board of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge for the last 3 years. The pair said their gift, which will be paid out over the next 20 years, was motivated by the belief that neuroscientists are poised to "address the daunting complexity of the mammalian brain and to begin to understand the biological basis for human thought, language, and behavior."

Among the new center's first priorities will be hiring new faculty. Institute director Sharp, whose discovery of gene splicing helped win him a 1993 Nobel Prize, will initially assemble an interdisciplinary team of 16 McGovern Investigators, including 10 new faculty. The new hires will be spread among a number of academic departments, including biology, computer science, and linguistics.

The donation presents a "remarkable opportunity" says Edward Jones, director of the neuroscience center at the University of California, Davis. The donors, he notes, "recognize that there are tremendous rewards to be reaped from this kind of investment," from a better understanding of genetic defects to new treatments for mental illnesses.