New Neuroscience Gift Will Tackle Sensory Disorders

Ernesto Bertarelli and Dean of HMS, George Daley

The Bertarelli Foundation’s gift of $6.35 million to Harvard Medical School will support research to understand and treat sensory disorders

The Bertarelli Foundation is further increasing its contribution to neuroscience research with a gift of $6.35 million to Harvard Medical School (HMS).

Of this new gift, $5 million will support collaborative research projects focused on understanding and treating sensory disorders, which affect tens of millions across the world, but also which experts believe will be at the forefront of exciting new breakthroughs in neuroscience. The $5 million will also support core facilities that will serve as technology incubators. These facilities will develop new instruments and methods that enable previously impossible investigations.

The gift’s remaining $1.35 million will support the continuation of an international fellows program, bringing five graduate students from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) to Boston to complete year-long academic projects in labs at HMS and its affiliated hospitals.

“In terms of scientific and medical research, Harvard Medical School remains at the pinnacle and I am very pleased we are able to develop our partnership with this new programme,” says the Foundation’s Ernesto Bertarelli, member of the HMS Board of Fellows, and a graduate of Harvard Business School. “The School’s openness to exploring new ideas and collaborating with others for the benefit of patients is very important. This new gift aims to support fresh thinking and enable scientists to take forward new ideas, through effective partnership and innovation.”

“I am confident that the next five to 10 years will see many new treatments for deafness, blindness and pain, and I think the projects of the Bertarelli Program, which encourage cross-disciplinary solutions, will be among the most exciting and effective,” says neurobiologist David Corey, the Bertarelli Professor of Translational Medical Science at HMS and the program’s director.

“The Bertarelli Program embodies our quest as physician-scientists to catalyze discovery from bench to bedside,” says HMS Dean George Q. Daley. “The scientists funded over the past eight years have pinpointed some of the most fundamental aberrations at the root of sensory and neurologic disorders, and they are developing treatments that promise to transform the lives of countless patients, thanks to the foresight and generosity of Ernesto Bertarelli and the Bertarelli Foundation.”

This new partnership with Harvard Medical School builds on the previous successes of the Bertarelli Program in Translational Neuroscience and Neuroengineering, a joint program between HMS and EPFL. Established in 2010, the program aims to help bridge the gap between basic and translational neuroscience and to help address important issues that, once solved, will have life-changing outcomes for patients.

Eleven grants have been awarded to date—six in 2011 and five in 2014—to researchers spanning Boston Children’s Hospital, EPFL, HMS, Jules-Gonin Eye Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Massachusetts General Hospital and Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear. Four additional projects will be funded later this year. Each will include a principal investigator at HMS and a collaborator from HMS, an HMS affiliate, or another institution in the United States, or any institution in the world.

One of the previous recipients of Bertarelli funding was Tina Stankovic, the Sheldon and Dorothea Buckler Chair in Otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and an associate professor of otolaryngology at HMS. Working together with Demetri Psaltis at EPFL, her project focuses on developing new methods for diagnostics of hearing loss.

“Private philanthropy is critical in allowing us to tackle difficult, high-risk, high-reward projects. The Bertarelli Program has set a very high standard in this regard, and I’m delighted that it will continue to do so,” says Stankovic.