The Picower Foundation is the latest U.S. charity to be sunk by Bernard Madoff and his self-admitted $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Researchers are reeling from the blow to the foundation, which in 2007 listed assets of $958 million.
On Saturday, The Boston Globe reported that foundation president Barbara Picower had sent out an e-mail declaring, "it is with great sadness that I write to inform you that the Picower Foundation has ceased all grant-making, effective immediately, and will close its doors in the coming months." In addition to funding a range of education and other projects, the Picower Foundation focused on Parkinson's disease and diabetes work, including a $1.5 million grant to Jeffrey Flier, a diabetes researcher and the dean of Harvard Medical School in Boston. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has also been a major recipient of the foundation's money, which helped found MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory there with a $50 million gift and contributed $200,000 a year for graduate fellowships.
"It's just so horrific," says Virginia Lee, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research at the University of Pennsylvania. Lee was part of a Parkinson's disease consortium that had been funded by the Picower Foundation for about 5 years, and her lab alone received about $3 million over that time; the consortium had recently made plans to expand. Now, she says, "I expect that it will fall apart," leaving each of the half-dozen or so members scrambling to fill the gap.