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MIT Gets $28.6 Million Gift to Establish Down Syndrome Research Center

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The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received a $28.6 million gift to create a new center aimed at increasing understanding of the biology and neuroscience behind Down syndrome.

The nonprofit organization Alana Foundation, started by Ana Lucia Villela of Brazil, made the contribution to setup the Alana Down Syndrome Center.

The new academic facility, based out of MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, will provide training and educational opportunities for students and early career scientists on Down syndrome research.

A part of the gift will also fund postdoctoral Alana Fellowships, graduate fellowships and a four-year program with MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation to design and develop technologies that can improve life for people with different intellectual abilities.

“We couldn’t be happier and more hopeful as to the size of the impact this center can generate,” Villela said.

“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.”

The center will be co-directed by Angelika Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research, and Li-Huei Tsai, the Picower Professor of Neuroscience. Furthermore, it will focus on systems and circuits, as well as genes and cells by employing cutting-edge techniques.

Earlier in 2015, the Alana Foundation gifted another $1.7 million to MIT to create new laboratory models of Down syndrome and to improve understanding of the mechanisms of the disorder and potential therapies for those affected.

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