Annual Report 2006 Chairman's Letter
Annual Report 2006


April, 2007

Dana takes two approaches to achieve its philanthropic goals. One, in our grantmaking: Our senior scientific advisors choose panels of experts to help the Foundation direct funds to research scientists and educators to conduct experiments and pursue creative ideas in the fields of brain science, immunology, and arts-in-education. In 2006, Dana seed-money grants in these fields led to investigations in treatment of movement disorders, depression, and early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, as well as development of ethical guidelines for studies of minimally conscious adults. A Dana consortium of seven universities has been looking into the potential benefits of early arts training on the ability of young children to concentrate and to learn and retain more in other areas of their education.

Two, in our operations: The Foundation staff marshals the best minds we can find in these fields to raise public awareness about what medical and scientific advances are under way. That’s the best way to attract the next generation of researchers to participate in—and funders to support—work leading to future breakthroughs. The Dana Alliance of leading scientists, on record as dedicated to these ends, in the past year has been more active than ever. Brain Awareness Week enters its second decade with added momentum and heightened interest around the world.

The annual report that follows will give you some specifics about the innovative research that many of our grantees have been doing. Let me introduce it with a few examples of their scientific work in brain science and immunology, their cooperation in explaining their work through public events and Dana Press, and their actions to encourage the teaching of the arts in public schools, as well as our colleagues’ leadership in the new field of “neuroethics.” Finally, I want to review how we’re using the latest communications methods to keep up with the public’s growing need for reliable new information on the Internet about each of Dana’s focused fields of interest. Let’s begin with examples of scientific grants:

Neuroscience

Many ideas that our panels of experts find promising fail to get funded by federal and other traditional sources for one simple reason: there is little preliminary evidence that the approach will work. But Dana has the freedom to gamble on a good idea from an impressive mind. Often we can step in to provide “seed money,” helping researchers—both new ones and those of established repute—to get started on a project, producing initial results that enable them to find larger-scale federal, state, or private sector funds to expand their studies.

Researcher Gary Small used a Dana Foundation grant in 2000–2001 to test whether a non-toxic substance called FDDNP would bind to the plaques and tangles in the brain that are a sign of Alzheimer’s disease, so they would show clearly in positron emission tomography (PET) scans. There currently is no foolproof test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s except by autopsy; if researchers can find a test that conclusively diagnoses the disease at its earliest stages in living people, doctors could provide treatments early, when they are most likely to be effective. Such a test also could show whether various experimental drugs were working to diminish the plaques and tangles far earlier than direct observation of the patient’s behaviors could reveal.

Initial positive results earned Small and his UCLA team a series of bigger grants from public and private groups for further study. In 2006, they reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that such scanning “can differentiate people with mild cognitive impairment from those with Alzheimer’s disease and those with no cognitive impairment,” based on a study of 83 volunteers who reported that they had memory troubles. The researchers now will test this imaging technique in a large number of older people to see if they can verify these initial results.

Another example: Cornell University researchers Nicholas Schiff, M.D., and Joseph Fins, M.D., and collaborators at other institutions reported in 2006 that deep brain stimulation—running low electric current through surgically implanted electrodes within a neural circuit—helped a minimally conscious patient regain some verbal communication abilities six years after sustaining a brain injury. Earlier, these Dana-supported investigators pioneered development of ethical guidelines for undertaking experimental studies in minimally conscious adults.

Their research has shown that for many brain-injured patients, emergence into a minimally conscious state is signaled by distinctive changes in brain, electrical, and metabolic activity. Recently, they began using imaging and electrical recording techniques to identify areas of such brain changes, which then might be enhanced by deep brain stimulation in those areas. Because only a few patients have been found to improve, it’s not yet known whether costly experimental interventions to try to stimulate recovery of some ability to communicate should be used in all patients. Research is ongoing to find out which patients are most likely to benefit.

A related example in brain science shows where Dana’s early confidence in a talented researcher may lead:

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) currently is used to treat some people who have intractable epilepsy or advanced Parkinson’s disease. Helen Mayberg, M.D., has been determining optimal methods for using DBS in an area of the prefrontal cortex in patients with intractable depression. This line of Dr. Mayberg’s research emanated from her initial imaging investigations at the University of Texas, funded by Dana more than a decade ago, which indicated that area 25, a specific region in the prefrontal cortex, was centrally involved in depression, the mental illness that affects more people than any other.

In 2006, a new Dana grant to Dr. Mayberg and colleagues at Emory University is helping them expand efforts to determine whether DBS effectively treats severe depression in people whose illness has not responded to available medications. The number of patients is too small to make claims, and DBS is a treatment and not a cure, but in early 2007 the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Insel, was hopeful that “the same kind of approach that has worked so well in Parkinson’s disease may work equally well—or even better—in depression.”

Immunology

Uli von Andrian, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues at the CBR Institute for Biomedical Research at Harvard Medical School in Boston showed through cellular imaging how immune-system sentries, called dendritic cells, capture foreign invaders and present them to immune T cells. Imaging revealed a three-step process that dendritic cells use to teach T cells to recognize the invaders so that they can attack them. These researchers also discovered during the past two years that “memory” T cells—which remember prior exposure to an infectious agent and attack it whenever it reoccurs—accumulate in the bone marrow, where they are visited by migrating dendritic cells that provide them with information about infections in peripheral tissues.

One of the questions this team pursues is why, in some people, some interactions between dendritic cells and T cells lead the T cells to attack the body’s own tissues. The answers may help unravel one of the mysteries of autoimmune diseases.

Advancing Cancer Research

For the past 45 years, the Dana Foundation has been a supporter of the cancer institute affiliated with Harvard Medical School. In 1983, in recognition of that sustained funding, the facility was renamed the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and today it is one of the world’s most respected cancer centers. In 2006, we made the second $1 million payment on a $10 million commitment to its clinical and translational cancer research, bringing the Foundation’s total support of the nstitute to almost $44 million. We are proud of this leader in both medical discovery and patient care, where Dana-Farber doctors and researchers are pursuing ways to understand cancer biology and develop effective treatments.

Supporting the teaching of the performing arts in public schools

For the past six years, Dana has been making grants to organizations that train performing artists to teach music, dance, and drama to children in public schools. (As one attracted to neologisms, I call it “artsucation.”) Our grants have been building up to more than $1 million a year to arts educators in the three U.S. metropolitan areas and their environs where Dana has offices: New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles.

Here’s an example taken from the 23 arts education grants we made in 2006, all in the $25,000 to $60,000 range. The Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, trains local performing artists—musicians, dancers, actors—to teach in underserved public schools. We helped them fund two multiple-day workshops to train 42 teachers, with follow-up residencies in county schools. That enabled the council to include more artists and begin a certification process; now it is developing a Web-based directory so that schools hungry for trained teaching artists can find these professionals who match their students’ artistic interests.

In 2005, we began to apply what we had learned over the past six years from educators, teaching artists and students in urban areas in a “rural initiative.” In our grant-application materials for 2006, we increased our granting but refrained from defining “rural”; instead, we asked applicants why they considered their region to be rural and how their proposal would meet its needs.

The responses were instructive: “24% of our children live below the poverty line . . . 26.6% in single-parent households . . . 55% eligible for free lunch . . . aging, dwindling population with few opportunities for young families . . . Human population is outnumbered by livestock. . . .60%–70% of our students ride the bus over 30 minutes to get to school. . . . Most teaching artists drive 3–4 hours a day to deliver services and receive professional development. . . . 55% of the population speaks a language other than English at home (Spanish).”

Big challenge. In 2006, our first year of open grants competition, we funded eleven groups with a variety of methods to provide pupils in remote areas with instruction in the performing arts. That was a start. Dana will expand the program in 2007, even as school budgets tighten and corporate support of the arts continues to decline.

Studying Arts and Cognition: Our Crossover Project

It occurred to us two years ago that Dana was uniquely equipped to pose the question, “Does early training in the performing arts (music, dance, drama) have a beneficial effect on the brain’s ability to learn other subjects (math, science, the humanities)?”

We turned to Professor Michael Gazzaniga, widely known as “the father of cognitive neuroscience.” That’s the study of how the brain learns, embracing perception, memory, and judgment—sensing, remembering, thinking. We asked him to assemble a team of the leading cognitive neuroscientists with the goal of providing evidence to augment some initial research and much wishful thinking on the subject. He organized a consortium of seven universities and laid out a series  of questions about the “near and far transfer” of abilities used to create or perform to abilities used in other cognitive activities. Dana funded the three-year consortium studies with $2 million; researchers are to deliver a report on their results in the fall of 2007.

Not everyone thought this inquiry was such a great idea. Ars gratia artis, “art for art’s sake,” is an ancient truism fervently held by those who believe it should be enough to point out that arts appreciation enriches one’s life, which it surely does—but the notion that artistic study and performance might have a practical benefit for brain development struck some as crass. However, with the national need for upgrading education in science and math, school budgets for arts education are being cut back severely—in too many cases eliminated entirely. Many of us believe that if we fail to offer our children a well-rounded education, we will produce a generation of squares. On the other hand, if rigorous investigation shows that study of music, acting, or dance not only makes many children want to come to school but also improves a child’s capacity to concentrate, for example, supporters of early arts schooling would have an added, persuasive argument. Initial scientific findings would likely trigger follow-up studies into the transfer of abilities as the technology advances for tracking brain circuitry among the brain’s domains.

Many of us believe that if we fail to offer our children a well-rounded education, we will produce a generation of squares.  We live in an era of budget-driven accountability. Its rationale is hard to
argue with. Not only are math and science subjects that lend themselves to measurement by test, but global competition requires us to measurably upgrade our education of future leaders in those areas so vital to defense and commerce. Dana does not see this as an either/or proposition; witness our long support of pioneering methods in the teaching of math and science.

Professor Uri Treisman, executive director of the Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin—around whom we created the first Dana Center thirteen years ago—discovered in the 1970s at the University of California the reason that Chinese American students performed much better at math than African American students: not, as most expected, because their socioeconomic status was better, but because the Chinese students studied in groups, overcoming “math anxiety,” while most of the black students chose to study individually. At UT-Austin, he created the Emerging Scholars Program to increase the number of women, minority, and other underserved students who succeed in math. In 2006, Treisman received the “Scientist of the Year” award from the Harvard Foundation for his work in advancing the careers of women and minorities in the sciences.

With us, it’s never been a choice between the sciences and the arts; we believe in both and are willing to join with others in supporting investigation into whether they are mutually beneficial.

Involving Audiences at Dana Centers

Among many events at the Dana Center in Washington, DC, this past year, I had a fascinating interview with Eric Kandel, vice chairman of the Dana Alliance, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on memory. (The interview is available via Webcast from www.dana.org.) We also held the panel discussion “Can Immunology Help Win the War on Cancer?” which centered on the work and book of LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr., M.D., a professor of surgery at Howard University and a longtime member of the Dana Foundation Board. Other panelists doing seminal work in immunology were Ralph M. Steinman, M.D., our senior immunology consultant, and Steven A. Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute.

At the Dana Centre in London, site of lively weekly encounters between scientists and an inquiring audience, a panel discussion with Dana Alliance member Nancy Andreasen, Daniel Glaser of University College in London, David Barrie of
the Arts Fund, Ken Arnold of Wellcome Trust, and Tim Radford, former science editor of the Guardian, centered on Andreasen’s new book, published by Dana, The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius.

Most of these events, some of which were part of the quarterly series cosponsored with Syracuse University and named “Speaking of Science,” can be downloaded from our Web site, extending their accessibility worldwide.

Introducing Neuroethics

“Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” was the name of the conference sponsored five years ago by Dana with the University of California at San Francisco and Stanford University. The year before, we coined that word, “neuroethics,” because “bioethics” was too broad a term for the moral and ethical issues spawned by the science of the brain, which goes to the core of our consciousness and the essence of what makes us human. To more fully develop the themes discussed at that conference, Dana Press has published a series of five books over the past five years, the best known of which is Michael Gazzaniga’s profoundly provocative The Ethical Brain.

In May 2006, Dana returned to California to sponsor a workshop held at Asilomar, run by the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics in Palo Alto. There and then, a professional neuroethics organization, the Neuroethics Society, was established.

The scientists, philosophers, clergy, doctors, ethicists, attorneys, and others assembled to professionalize the new discipline voted to ask Steven E. Hyman, M.D., to be the society’s first president. Dr. Hyman, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is a busy man: He is provost of Harvard University and also an active member of the Dana Foundation Board of Directors. But he’s been interested in the profound questions raised in this new field from the very start and agreed to add the new assignment to his existing workload. The society’s first executive committee meeting will be held at the Dana Center in Washington, DC, in 2007.

To the most frequently debated ethical issues (about invasion of privacy to discover future vulnerabilities; the propriety of “memory pills” to give some students an advantage before tests in light of the steroid scandal in athletics; use of animal cells to repair human brain tissue; legal responsibility for violent actions; and a long et cetera), Dr. Hyman adds this even more fundamental question: “As we begin to understand the neural foundations of social interaction including such issues as prejudice and trust, and as ways of influencing such interactions emerge (e.g., by pharmacology or electrical stimulation), profound questions arise about where our different ethical systems come from. Are they derived from timeless, rational principles, contingent products of an evolving brain, or both? If we are to handle scientific progress in the most adaptive way, neuroethics is here to stay.”

I quote that conclusion from his essay “Neuroethics at Age 5,” which appears in Dana’s 2007 Progress Report on Brain Research. You can read his essay (and also find out plenty about the latest advances in neuroscience) by going to www.dana.org and clicking on “News and Publications.” Read it; forward it to others you think would find it rewarding; that’s how this business of public awareness works.

Integrating Neuroscience and the Law

Dana is in the vanguard of those helping make the public aware of the role that neuroscientists should play in our legal system. Concerns about pseudoscience and spurious claims for the reliability of novel theories led us to work with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Federal Judicial Center, and the National Center for State Courts at workshops that brought together members of federal and state judiciaries and outstanding euroscientists. In 2004, the Dana Press published a book, written by members of the AAAS, setting forth the commissioned papers and a report of the proceedings at one such workshop, held at the Dana Center. Since that time, Dana and AAAS have worked together in this arena, most recently at a workshop at Stanford University in December 2006. Recognizing the growing public interest in this topic, another foundation has announced a major grant for research on the role of neuroscience in the legal system. That’s good news; we expect to continue our efforts in “neuro-law” and to urge other institutions and law schools to focus on the area.

Managing Brain Awareness Week

This ever-expanding and seemingly unstoppable annual event entered its second decade in 2006 with an appropriate theme: “Get Connected.” From its start in 1996 with 160 participating organizations in the United States, Brain Awareness Week—the brainchild of my predecessor, David J. Mahoney, a marketing genius—has grown into a global network of events involving tens of thousands of scientists, educators, students, potential researchers, and others curious about cures or worried about their health. In 2006, with the enthusiastic involvement of the Society for Neuroscience, more than 1,963 organizational partners in 67 countries participated; new countries eager to be added to the roster were Cameroon, Chile, Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Engaging the Public

Background: In the early 1990s, Dana brought together a group of leading neuroscientists to confront a troubling reality—the importance of brain research had not captured the public’s attention. Because the new field was not attracting attention, it was not attracting necessary public and private funding in the competition with other serious medical and scientific areas. Just as distressing to the scientists—who understood better than most the value of the functional magnetic resonance imaging and gene sequencing advances that offered the potential of brain discoveries on the horizon—the lack of general appreciation of the excitement in neuroscience was discouraging young researchers from making that underreported and underfunded field their career choice.

The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives scientists agreed to subscribe publicly to a series of specific research goals that offered hope to millions. They took time from their lab work to speak at public forums, visit public schools, and give interviews in language understandable to laymen in all media. They were soon joined by the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, with headquarters in London and Lausanne. Membership is limited to leaders in the field who are willing to communicate with the public; there are now 447 members, 15 of them Nobelists.

The Dana Foundation staff backed the scientists’ communications effort by creating publications that helped provoke and extend this interest, such as the periodical BrainWork; the wide-ranging Brain in the News, reprinting the best neuroscience articles in the press; similar reprints in the immunology and arts education fields; the thought-provoking online journal Cerebrum; and books on a variety of brain science topics, often written by Dana Alliance members in the United States and Europe and published by Dana Press.

It’s evident that our mission of helping organize efforts to raise public awareness of brain science has been succeeding. Today, not only scientific journals are covering potential advances in treatments for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, ALS, and especially Parkinson’s. Previously arcane words (like “neurodegenerative” and its optimistic near-antonym, “neurogenesis”) are grist for the paper mills of newspapers; the subject is splashed across covers of newsmagazines, at or near the top of television news programs and documentaries, and—too often in overpopularized, even sensational form—in all sorts of media outlets, including the Internet.

In terms of medical and scientific news, the brain is “in.” People everywhere want to learn about it and want to know when its researchers will deliver even greater progress toward treating, if not curing, many of the disorders and diseases that afflict so many human beings.

This sea change in the awareness of neuroscience was brought about by the ability of scientists to innovate and their willingness to communicate, aided to some degree by Dana’s support in disseminating their news and views to opinion leaders and in organizing public activities. (We don’t do lobbying, but Alliance members and others are free to use our materials in educating those who are capable of providing financial support far beyond our own grants.)

The success of the Alliance’s decade-long activities to raise public awareness calls for an additional approach in 2007. We will continue to make the kind of grants described in this report. And we will continue to call attention to the action and potential of brain science; that endeavor is surely up and running, with fresh and useful information—along with some fanciful or exaggerated claims—coming at all of us from all over. Thanks to the momentum developed over the past decade, and to the mutual respect developed among sources and media, the accessibility of busy scientists is no longer the challenge it used to be.

Now the public, hungry for information, needs to be able to navigate a flood of scientific as well as pseudoscientific material, in print and onscreen. How do interested persons—students, journalists, researchers, all those concerned about their health—get a specific answer to a pertinent question from this new wealth of often conflicting data? Just as important, how can they be certain they are acquiring knowledge that is considered reliable by the best-informed minds—including all the caveats about what is not known and what should be clearly labeled speculation? That’s not all; beyond the deluge of data, there is the neuroethical dimension: What are all the sides to the controversies about privacy, mind manipulation, cloning, access to advanced treatment, and all the other dangers and opportunities that neuroscientific progress is heir to?

Launching Our 2007 Web site

Here is the beginning of Dana’s answer to that deluge: We invested in a system to make use of the latest information technology to provide answers to questions that the great vacuum cleaner of information technology has sucked up and made hard for the average person to winnow out.

We’ve had success with our Web site in the recent past, with www.dana.org attracting more than 1.5 million visitors per month to examine a portion of our content and to check out grant opportunities. Visitors to our first-phase Web site were able to view our scientific panels held at the Dana Center in Washington, DC; they were also able to read all our free publications and to peruse the articles in Cerebrum, past and present, in its new, free electronic form.

In the fall of 2006, we invested in a new Web system to make the information and ideas that we gather more easily and more deeply searchable. We taught our staff how to participate in managing the site’s ever-growing content and to keep it timely and newsworthy. The new site will debut in the late spring of 2007, enabling us to cover news about the brain, the immune system, and arts education. Visitors will be able to retrieve archived articles, video clips, images, and pod-casts to give context to original reporting by our staff and commentary by Dana scientists. You don’t have to be a cognitive scientist to know that the cognition that counts most is the memory that is readily retrievable.

Users who know what they are looking for will have a more powerful search engine (the same type, I’m told, that powers Google) to find the content they seek. Those of us with a less laserlike focus—who are not quite sure what it is we want and prefer to browse our archives—will have a method of noodling around (to adopt a cutting-edge technical term) that makes it easier to explore the site’s topics by arranging information in manageable categories. Along the way, we’ll also be able to create, online, “communities of interest.”

In the pages that follow, you’ll find a summary of the work being done by many of our grantees as we carry out Dana’s funding mission; calling attention to their successes and those of others is part of our public-awareness mission. It’s an
example of how we intend to provide tomorrow’s Web site visitors—scientists, journalists, educators, students, and others with a need to know about brain health and good reason to be hopeful—with information and judgments they can trust from some of the best scientific sources in the field.

—William Safire