Paul G. Allen Commits $300M to Expand the Allen Institute for Brain Science to Drive Toward a Complete Understanding of How the Brain Works

Institute announces ambitious 10-year plan to tackle the most complex questions in brain science with a continued commitment to open data sharing

March 21, 2012 View PDF

The Allen Institute for Brain Science announced today that, given its achievements to date, Paul G. Allen has committed an additional $300 million to the Institute to significantly expand its scientific programs. Bringing his total commitment to date to $500 million, Allen has charged the Institute with tackling some of the most fundamental and complex questions in brain science today. The answers to these questions are essential for achieving a complete understanding of how the brain works, what goes wrong in brain-related diseases and disorders, and how best to treat them.

"The accomplishments of the Institute have been truly remarkable," said Paul G. Allen. "With its disciplined, mission-focused approach, the Institute has successfully tackled big-science projects, delivering tangible results that are helping to advance brain research around the world every day. I am excited to expand the scale and scope of the Institute's efforts, and I look forward to seeing what we will accomplish in the future."

Allen's significant new contribution will support the first four years of an ambitious 10-year plan developed by the Allen Institute for Brain Science. The plan calls for a doubling of the Institute's staff to launch three new and complementary scientific initiatives that address critical questions that are central to understanding how the brain works:

  • How does the brain store, encode and process information?
  • What are the cellular building blocks that underlie all brain function, and are often targets of disease?
  • How do those cells develop, and then create the circuits that drive behavior, thought and brain dysfunction?

These three complementary initiatives are designed to yield knowledge of fundamental principles governing brain function, publicly sharable data, and new tools and technologies that will further accelerate progress across the global research community.

"Paul Allen's generosity and bold vision have allowed us to build a unique organization and advance brain research in ways that wouldn't be possible otherwise," said Allan Jones, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science. "This new funding enables us to apply our structured, industrial-scale approach to science to tackle increasingly complex questions about how the brain works—questions that must be answered if we are to understand and treat autism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, traumatic brain injury and the myriad other brain-related diseases and disorders that affect all of us either directly or indirectly."

Expansion

To support the new initiatives, the Allen Institute will expand significantly, with plans to double its current staff to more than 350 employees over the next four years. Hiring has begun across all three initiatives. These programs require a team of leading minds at all levels and from across different disciplines to cross-talk and pool their expertise, working toward common goals.

The Allen Institute has already begun to assemble a powerhouse of noted scientific leaders who will collaborate closely and drive creative discovery, innovation and productivity to achieve the goals of the new initiatives. Christof Koch, Ph.D., joined the Allen Institute from Caltech in 2011 as chief scientific officer. R. Clay Reid, M.D., Ph.D., from Harvard Medical School and Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., from Stanford University will start in the coming months.

They join the Allen Institute's senior scientific director of research and development, Hongkui Zeng, Ph.D., who oversees the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas project and is already using the Allen Institute's existing public data sets to begin classifying different cell populations. Dr. Reid and Dr. Dolmetsch will contribute their respective expertise in neural coding and cell networks to a multidisciplinary conversation with Dr. Zeng and Dr. Koch, who is well known for integrating results from different neuroscientific disciplines to understand the complex computations and functions of the brain.

"The Allen Institute's groundbreaking approach—the way that it conducts 'big science' in an 'open science' fashion—has been a game changer in neuroscience," said Susumu Tonegawa, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate and director of the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics. "From the accomplishment of the mouse and human brain atlases to this new work in the areas of neural coding and cell circuitry, the Allen Institute is making it possible for the world's scientists to carve inroads in understanding and treating human brain impairments that otherwise would be decades away."

Paul Allen launched the Allen Institute for Brain Science with a seed contribution of $100 million, and based on the successful completion and impact of the Allen Mouse Brain Atlas and other early initiatives, has since contributed an additional $100 million. The $300 million commitment announced today brings Allen's cumulative investment to $500 million, making it one of the largest philanthropic commitments ever to fund neuroscience research.

Bolstered by new funding and new scientific talent, the Allen Institute for Brain Science is further pushing the frontiers of neuroscience with new initiatives and historic aims to accelerate understanding of the human brain in health and disease.

Impact

The Allen Institute's work is used regularly by scientists around the world and has been recognized for its significant impact on brain research, garnering awards from the Society for Neuroscience, the American Academy of Neurology, Time magazine and others. A pioneer in bringing the "big science" approach to the study of the brain, the Allen Institute has been driving research forward since 2003 by systematically generating massive data sets—comprising a total of 1.3 petabytes to date—and translating them into online public resources. These resources, all openly available via the Allen Brain Atlas data portal at www.brain-map.org free of charge, have become essential resources for scientists around the globe—from graduate students to large-scale commercial labs.

All together, the Allen Institute's online public resources receive approximately 50,000 visits each month, representing researchers from universities, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, government laboratories and other research organizations across about 70 countries worldwide. These unprecedented data stores and online tools empower scientists to save time—shaving days to months to years off of their research programs—and to make groundbreaking discoveries about brain disease and disorders, helping to ultimately deliver better treatment options sooner. Researchers studying every facet of normal brain function and disease, from learning, cognition, hearing and development to stroke, Alzheimer's, obesity, schizophrenia, autism, and more, regularly use and cite Allen Institute resources in their research.