Physician, educator, and philanthropist Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have announced a wildly ambitious $3 billion plan to “eliminate, cure, or prevent disease” by the end of this century.
The couple intend to spend their money on basic science research—that is, the study of the fundamental concepts and phenomena that make up our world. Basic research is essential to scientific and medical advancement, yet it’s often overlooked and underfunded in favor of drug research and other studies with more immediate potential to change human lives. The initiative will also support education, health research, and internet connectivity, which many consider a public health issue in its own right.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has already signed on and consulted with a number of scientific heavy hitters, including Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, and Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, a prominent cancer researcher.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the initiative aims to create networks of thinkers. “Building tools requires bringing scientists and engineers together in large numbers for large periods of time, and that’s not something most science funding is set up to do,” Zuckerberg told Nature. “That emerged to us as a big opening where we could help grow this movement among other scientific funders.”
The initiative’s “challenge networks” will bring together teams of scientists from different backgrounds, specialties, and institutions to tackle large-scale medical issues like neurodegenerative disease.
Superstar neuroscientist Cornelia Bargmann will be the initiative’s “president of science.” Speaking to Nature, Bargmann expressed excitement about the initiative’s focus on collaboration, which she says may reduce redundancy and introduce new ways of thinking.
“In my lab, everyone now writes code; that’s a bit like everyone making their own soap,” she said. “We should be finding ways of doing this that are general and powerful, that allow us to interact and share our knowledge.”
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