Boston Children's, Harvard Medical School Receive $10 Million

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group has announced a four-year, $10 million grant — with the possibility of an increase to $30 million over eight years — to create a center focused on human brain evolution at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

The Allen Discovery Center for Human Brain Evolution will take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding when and how the human brain evolved and identifying the roles of genes involved in that evolution. To be led by Christopher A. Walsh, chief of the Division of Genetics and Genomics at Boston Children's Hospital and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, with co-leads Michael Greenberg at HMS and David E. Reich at HHMI, the center will work to identify key genes required for human brain evolution, analyze the role of those genes in human behavior and cognition, and study their functions as they relate to evolutionary mechanisms.

"To understand when and how our modern brains evolved, we need to take a multipronged approach that will reflect how evolution works in nature and also identifies how experience and environment affect the genes that gave rise to modern human behavior," said Walsh. "Understanding how the human brain evolved and cataloging the genes involved in that evolution will shed an exciting light on what makes humans distinct, and may also shed light on brain disorders."

"Unraveling the mysteries of the human brain will propel our understanding of brain development, brain evolution, and human behavior," said George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School. "It also will help us understand what makes us unique as a species. The research conducted by these three remarkable scientists spans the gamut from molecule to organism to system, and underscores the cross-pollination among basic, translational, and clinical discovery as well as across neurobiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, and neurology."