Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is doubling down on his efforts to better understand the human brain, announcing plans today to donate $300 million to the Allen Insitute of Brain Science. That brings total fundraising in the 9-year-old non-profit scientific organization to $500 million, one of the largest philanthropic commitments ever to fund neuroscience.
In a press call today, Allen said that he’s always been “awed” by the “enormous complexity” of the human brain, adding that it is much more complex than any software that has ever been invented. The research conducted at the Allen Institute for Brain Science has been used by researchers throughout the world to study a range of diseases and disorders, from down syndrome to sleep disorders to schizophrenia.
“We are going to tackle some of the biggest challenges in science today,” said Allen, adding that he’s hopeful the research will help solve the “mysteries of how the brain works.”
The overall goal he said is to “uncover the essence of what makes us human.” Making references to his days as a programmer and his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Allen said that that there “really is no greater challenge with potential for huge impact than understanding how the brain works.”
He’s not interested in commercializing the research conducted at the Institute, instead saying that they will continue to collaborate and work with research organizations, universities and biotech companies throughout the world in order to “push the boundaries of what we know about the human brain.”
The new funding will be used to: understand how the brain stores, encodes and processes information; uncover how the cellular building blocks work that underlie brain function; and investigate how cells develop and create circuits that drive behavior, thought and brain dysfunction.
Dr. Christof Koch — a 25-year veteran of the California Institute of Technology who was recently hired as chief scientific officer at the Institute — described the new approach as creating “brain observatories” to study the organ’s key functions.
The institute employs 185 people across three buildings in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. As part of the new funding, the Institute plans to double its staff to more than 350 people over the next four years. The organization said that is currently looking at new office space to accomodate the growth, and to get the staffers and researchers under one roof. (Can anyone say South Lake Union?)