Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has announced a $15 million commitment from longtime supporters Philip and Sima Needleman in support of two centers dedicated to advancing promising research on chronic diseases of aging.
The gift includes $10 million to establish the Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Autophagy Therapeutics and Research, which will be dedicated to understanding autophagy, a cellular waste-cleansing process implicated in many processes that affect health, including infections, inflammatory diseases, diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis, and cancer. David H. Perlmutter, who will lead the center, likened autophagy to cellular vacuum cleaners and recycling systems: when the systems stop working, waste accumulates and cells stop functioning at their optimal level.
The remaining $5 million will be dedicated to the Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Neurometabolism and Axonal Therapeutics. The field of neurometabolism seeks to understand how cells burn energy and how that impacts the health of the entire nervous system. Researchers at the center will investigate the potential of energy metabolism in developing therapeutics for conditions as diverse as Parkinson's disease, traumatic brain injury, antibiotic-resistant infections, and even glaucoma.
In 1964, Philip Needleman became a postdoctoral fellow at WU and later served as head of its pharmacology department. Sima Needleman earned a master's degree in social work from the Brown School at WU and later served in a number of leadership roles, including president of the alumni board (1993-95). The Needlemans' previous giving includes support for an endowed fellowship, a pharmacology prize, fellowships in regenerative medicine at the School of Medicine, and three endowed scholarships at the Brown School.
"We are delighted to be able to provide support for these two exciting centers of scientific discovery at Washington University," said Philip Needleman. "Over the course of my career, I have felt fortunate to have been through the complete drug development process, from basic academic research in my lab to the industrial production of a widely used drug. I see these centers as a chance for bright people to see a problem through from beginning to end, and to have the resources to validate a new drug target and have access to the tools to assess whether it will make a good therapeutic compound."