The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a $28.6 million gift from the Alana Foundation in support of a Down syndrome research center, a technology initiative, and a fellowship program.
Announced on World Down Syndrome Day, the gift will establish the Alana Down Syndrome Center at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and help support multidisciplinary research in neuroscience, biology, engineering, and computer science labs on campus. Among other things, the center will engage the expertise of scientists and engineers to increase understanding of the biology and neuroscience of Down syndrome; provide training and educational opportunities for early-career scientists and students to become involved in Down syndrome research; convene an annual symposium; and fund postdoctoral and graduate fellowships. In the first four years, the new center's research will be focused on two main areas: systems and circuits as well as genes and cells.
The gift also will launch Technology to Improve Ability, a four-year program in partnership with the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation aimed at supporting the design and development of technologies that can improve life for people with different intellectual abilities and other developmental challenges. Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is characterized by extra genetic material from some or all of chromosome 21 in many or all of an individual's cells and occurs in one out of every seven hundred babies in the United States.
Based in São Paulo, Brazil, the Alana Foundation awarded $1.7 million to MIT in 2015 to fund studies focused on creating new laboratory models of Down syndrome and improving understanding of the mechanisms of the disorder as well as potential therapies. The new center will build on that partnership to promote discovery and technology development aimed at helping people with different abilities gain greater social and practical skills and enhance their participation in the educational system, the workforce, and community life.
"We couldn't be happier and more hopeful as to the size of the impact this center can generate," said Alana Foundation president Ana Lucia Villela. "It's an innovative approach that doesn't focus on the disability but, instead, focuses on the barriers that can prevent people with Down syndrome from thriving in life in their own way."