The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a $28 million gift from philanthropist Lisa Yang and alumnus Hock E. Tan to establish a collaborative molecular therapeutics center at the McGovern Institute.
The K. Lisa Yang and Hock E. Tan Center for Molecular Therapeutics in Neuroscience will work to develop innovative molecular tools for the treatment of brain disorders that precisely target dysfunctional genetic, molecular, and circuit pathways. Initially, research conducted at the center will focus on three lines of investigation: genetic engineering using CRISPR tools, the delivery of genetic and molecular cargo across the blood-brain barrier, and the translation of basic research into clinical settings, with the center serving as a hub for researchers with backgrounds in biological engineering, genetics, computer science, and medicine.
According to the institute, there are as many as twenty-two thousand genes in the human genome and a third of those genes are active in the brain — the highest proportion of genes expressed in any part of the body. Variations in genetic code have been linked to many complex brain disorders, including depression, Parkinson's, and autism. Emerging technologies like the CRISPR gene editing platform pioneered by McGovern investigator Feng Zhang have great potential to both target and fix errant genes, but the safe and effective delivery of this genetic cargo to the brain remains a challenge.
Yang, a former investment banker, is a devoted advocate for individuals with disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. Tan is president and CEO of Broadcom, a global technology infrastructure company.
"My goal in creating this center is to cement the Cambridge and Boston region as the global epicenter of next-generation therapeutics research," said Yang. "The novel ideas I have seen undertaken at MIT's McGovern Institute and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard leave no doubt in my mind that major therapeutic breakthroughs for mental illness, neurodegenerative disease, autism, and epilepsy are just around the corner."