Annual Report 2008 Chairman's Letter
Dana Foundation 2008 Annual Report

April, 2009

“Hard Times, come again no more” was the lyric written by Stephen Foster a century and a half ago, recalling the difficult years following the Panic of 1837. Today, after this generation’s market meltdown, that grim song could also be expressing the concern of philanthropies long accustomed to returns on investments enabling increased support of activities like the Dana Foundation’s: advanced scientific research and related educational and cultural services.

In the Chairman’s message at the end of last year, I reported that Dana’s spending on direct grants and supportive program activities for the previous three years averaged almost 8 percent of our endowment. That is substantially above the government’s requirement for private foundations of 5 percent, and is in line with our expressed budget policy “to meet the needs of worthy causes now rather than have the foundation’s assets grow to help someday.”

As you will see in this report of the gratifying results of our grants and operations, 2008 was one of the foundation’s most successful years in meeting its responsibilities as a creative and supportive philanthropy. At the same time, we are dealing with economic reality:

This grantmaking and operating foundation began 2008 with an endowment of $333 million. After making grants of $16 million in neuroscience, immunology, and arts education in public schools; after $13 million for operations like the Dana Press neuroscience books and free periodicals, as well as coordinating the ever-expanding annual Brain Awareness Week and disseminating reliable scientific news and reports of our symposia through our Web site—and after taking an unprecedented “hit” of an estimated 25 percent on our portfolio of investments—our preliminary estimate of the Foundation’s endowment at the beginning of 2009 is about $219 million.

That’s some drop. Though we did somewhat better in comparisons with stock-bond indexes and the investment decline of many other charitable foundations (and Dana was not afflicted by fraud), our portfolio suffered. Recipients of our current scientific and educational grants, as well as the tens of thousands of members of the public who benefit from the information we gather and make understandable and available, need to know: What are we doing to maintain our philanthropic mission while adjusting to the current economic reality of our reduced resources?

Hyphenated answer: with Board oversight and approval, we’re responsibly belt-tightening but not unduly hunkering-down. While we carried out our commitments in grants and operations as the economic downturn turned severe in the fall of 2008, we were able to trim our expenditures to reflect the current need for austerity: capping compensation, reducing consultancies, and bringing in many production items for this past year under budget. For example, the previous year’s annual report was the traditional 112-page brochure with four-color pictures, mailed to two thousand recipients—nothing fancy, but in the regular practice of informative annual reports. This year’s, as every reader can plainly see, comes to you online only on our Web site: no printing or postage costs. Saves us a bundle, and for you is more easily searchable and file-able.

In budgeting for grants in 2009, in some cases we’ve reduced the number of proposals we request. In other areas, we’ve lowered the amount of funding to applicants whose work we give priority to supporting. In some cases, we’ve stretched the timing, though not the amount, of multi-year grants. We’ve informed prospective grantees that the review process would be particularly competitive this year. In setting budgets for our program activities, we’ve extended the austerity on compensation and hiring imposed in late ’08 to the current year; begun negotiating rent reductions; curtailed overseas expenses; suspended some of our outreach programs and reduced the dollars available for others; and switched more print publications to economical online distribution. Foundation staff, consultants, and our many current grantees understand the necessity of these measures for 2009 and are cooperating fully.

Now to a few of the highlights of our grants and programs in the past year. We spell them out in more detail, along with our other significant activities, in the report following this message.

Advances in Deep Brain Stimulation

Here’s an example of the way our grantmaking and program operations work in mutual support.

Many Americans with heart disease are familiar with the way a surgically implanted pacemaker uses electricity to regulate the contractions of the heart. Fewer are aware of deep brain stimulation (DBS), a technique that implants electrodes in the brain and a battery in the chest to emit low-voltage currents to alleviate suffering in several brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Fourteen years ago, Dana began supporting the research of Helen Mayberg, M.D., then at the University of Texas, later at the University of Toronto, and now at Emory University in Atlanta, where she and others have expanded their research into the use of DBS to help patients with severe depression who do not respond to drug therapy.

The director of Emory’s Neuroscience Center, Mahlon DeLong, M.D., who pioneered using DBS for Parkinson’s, co-wrote an essay for the 2008 Dana Progress Report on Brain Research about this subject.

Two other doctors—Nicholas Schiff, M.D., and Joseph Fins, M.D.,—had been studying the use of DBS in the thalamus of adults in a minimally conscious state. With a Dana grant in 2003 they helped develop ethical guidelines for experimental treatment of these patients. Their work made headlines in 2007 when one of their patients, age 38, a victim of a mugging that left him unable to respond, “broke through” to consciousness after six years and is able to communicate.

These doctors came to Dana because of our sponsorship of the new field of “neuroethics,” launched in 2002 at a symposium of scientists, philosophers, educators, and ethicists and which Dana Press followed up by commissioning and publishing of a series of books in this new field (including the neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga’s bestseller, The Ethical Brain). That, in turn, helped lead to the formation of the Society for Neuroethics, whose first president is Steven Hyman, M.D., provost of Harvard and a member of Dana’s Board of Directors; the Society now has more than 450 members around the world and held its meeting last year at the Dana Center in Washington, D.C.

At another meeting in D.C. organized by the Library of Congress, Dr. Hyman and I encountered the dynamic Dr. Mayberg; that meeting resulted in her heading a panel on the ethical interest of those working with deep brain stimulation held at the Dana Center, webcast worldwide and available on the archives of our Web site.

The grant-and-program synergy never ends: in March 2009, a fascinating book titled Deep Brain Simulation: A New Treatment Shows Promise in the Most Difficult Cases by the science writer Jamie Talan (with input from some of the leading minds in the field) was published by Dana Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press. It is the first thorough historical study of the technique, with chapters on its use or experimental testing in patients with Parkinson’s, dystonia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette syndrome, pain and minimal consciousness, and epilepsy—a thoughtful, factual, seminal introductory work, devoid of hype, with an excellent list of references and source materials. I was proud to send the book to all 283 members of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and 210 members of the European Dana Alliance for the Brain. More about DBS on our Web site.

Learning, Arts, and the Brain

Since the industrialist and legislator Charles A. Dana launched his foundation nearly sixty years ago, education has been an active area of its support. At first, construction of auditoriums at colleges was our primary contribution. This was followed by grants from providing fellowships and scholarships to helping disadvantaged students meet the daunting challenge of college calculus. In the past eight years, we have focused on a field of great need: the revitalization of the teaching of the performing arts in our public schools. Whenever local school budgets tighten—in good times and in today’s harder times—one of the first activities to be curtailed has been children’s education in music, dance, and drama. That’s a big mistake, not just because study of the arts attracts young people to remain in school, and not just because an appreciation of our cultural heritage enriches their lives during and long after school.  We see other reasons as well: arts study encourages creativity, the precursor to economic productivity; it stimulates the imagination, opening new vistas for scholastic achievement and interesting careers.

Five years ago, a light bulb went on in our heads: Since we were so deeply involved in spreading the gospel of brain science, might there not be a way to determine whether there is a connection between the study of the arts and the development of the brain’s ability to learn? To perceive through the senses, to store memory in areas like the hippocampus, to quickly retrieve that information through the neural circuits—aren’t those arts-related functions of the organ inside the skull? And could it be shown that the study of the arts has a direct effect on the ability to concentrate, to focus, so as more easily to learn math, science, and the humanities?

Wishful thinking, said skeptics who preferred more easily measureable academic subjects. Art for art’s sake, said some purist critics who disdained any “practical” benefit from studying and performing in their fields. And yet some cognitive neuroscientists, newly equipped with technology to see what was going on in the living and learning human brain, wondered: Why did so many musicians excel at math? Why did children who eagerly performed dance and welcomed its difficult training shine in the seemingly unrelated world of spatial relationships? Why did so many actors have such good memories?

Under the guiding hand of “the father of cognitive neuroscience”, Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D., of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Dana put up $2 million to undertake a three-year study, drawing on the top cognitive talent in the faculties of seven leading universities taking a serious look at the subject so central to cognition and to early education. Their March 2008 report, titled “Learning, Arts, and the Brain” (available in full on our Web site, along with media commentary), was careful not to use the word “causation”—not enough evidence yet to make such a sweeping claim—but found “tight correlation” between facility in an art form and achievement in other domains. “In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation,” and in grown-ups, “Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.” The scientists of the Dana Consortium on Arts and Cognition concluded: “An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.” 

 In June 2008, Dana awarded a grant to a member of the consortium, Harvard’s Elizabeth Spelke, Ph.D., to follow up the music-geometry connection with a larger sample, and to investigate whether a musical tone is represented as space in the brain.

Throughout our study and its aftermath, we were hopeful that other educators and neuroscientists would join us in moving this important field of study ahead. Sure enough, in the fall of 2008 the Johns Hopkins University School of Education asked us to join its Neuro-Education Initiative to plan a conference on “Learning, Arts and the Brain.” That was the title of the Dana Consortium’s report; in a fair exchange, we plan to adopt the Hopkins use of the neologism neuro-education. (An aside: As a combining prefix, neuro- is hot, now including neuro-economics; I thought I had coined the term neuroethics in 2001, but it turns out that the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Anneliese Pontius used it in a published paper on child-rearing in 1993. Ah, well.)

The Hopkins gathering is now set for May 6, 2009, at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Its purpose, in their words, is “to discuss what is known about arts and cognition, explore research priorities and opportunities, and develop methods of effective communication of findings to educators and stakeholders.” Guy McKhann, M.D., professor of neurology and neuroscience at Hopkins and Dana’s senior scientific consultant, and I will be among the speakers, along with Dr. Spelke and two other members of our original Consortium: Michael Posner, Ph.D., of the University of Oregon and Brian Wandell, Ph.D., of Stanford. Dana support in addition to Dr. McKhann will include Barbara Rich, Ed.D., head of our News and Internet Office, and Janet Eilber, our director of Arts Education. Dana Press reporters directed by Jane Nevins and Nicky Penttila will cover the proceedings on our Website and in our publications Brainwork, Brain in the News, and Arts Education in the News. 

The next day, in nearby Washington D.C., a “Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit and Roundtable” will take place, part of a two-day Learning & the Brain conference.  For the past five years, we have worked with the dedicated educators of Learning & the Brain on these semi-annual gatherings, which often draw up to 1,000 teachers, administrators and scientists; Dana Alliance members, and Dana staff and consultants often participate in their panels.

Brain Awareness Week

A third example of how our grantmaking and program operations reinforce each other is Brain Awareness Week. Its thirteenth annual celebration in the Americas and the eleventh internationally took place March 10-16, 2008. Each year since its inception, the campaign—organized by Dana staff led by vice president Barbara Gill in partnership with the Society for Neuroscience, the International Brain Research Organization and the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies—has witnessed remarkable growth and gained new supporters for brain science. In 2008, “BAW” included more than 2,200 partner institutions and organizations. Seven new countries—Bermuda, Dominica, Grenada, Indonesia, Macedonia, Paraguay, and Slovakia—were added in 2008, increasing the total number of countries with BAW partners to 76. No other activity has been as influential in driving home the significance of brain research, the importance of its public and private support, and its attraction to young scientists than this program to bring scientists and the general public together—the brainchild of my predecessor as chairman, David J. Mahoney.

In addition to these examples of grant and program coordination, let me call attention to a few of Dana’s notable scientific and educational grants:

Improving intensive care: Many medical centers have developed intensive care units for patients with brain injuries such as stroke, brain trauma, or cardiac arrest, offering treatments like cooling and measures to decrease intracranial pressure and prevent seizures. What have been missing are direct, online measures of what is going on in the brain to signal the beginning of potentially dangerous changes so physicians can intervene to protect brain tissue against further damage. Investigators at Columbia led by Stephan Mayer, M.D., have designed a multipurpose brain probe that simultaneously measures intracranial pressure, blood flow, continuous brain activity (EEG), and glucose metabolism.

The software has been developed with Dana support so that continuous readout of these measures in comatose patients is available at the bedside. In some cases in which conventional wisdom would have dismissed the potential for recovery, spectacular awakenings have occurred. Now, this recording system is being further refined with data from other intensive care units.

Drug Addiction: In 2008, Dana moved quickly to provide a follow-on grant to the University of Pennsylvania to continue a feasibility study conducted by Charles P. O'Brien, M.D., Ph.D. The original grant, part of the Clinical Neuroscience Research program, was unusual in that the researchers were not attempting to study the physical or chemical effects of a drug or a procedure. Rather, the efficacy of the drug, naltrexone, had been clearly established: The drug negates the effects of heroin and other opiates so that addicts "get no kick" from heroin. However, the original drug required a daily oral regimen and many addicts found it difficult to comply. When a new, long-lasting form of naltrexone was developed with a regimen of a once-a-month injection, Dr. O'Brien submitted a proposal to work with the criminal justice system to make the long-lasting naltrexone available to a defined population, with participation voluntary and no coercion used in recruiting participants. Based on early results, the National Institute on Drug Abuse made a preliminary determination to support a large-scale study on the effectiveness of naltrexone in preventing heroin relapse and reincarceration among adult paroles and probationers. Federal funding, however, would not be available until October 2008, months after our grant expired. A prompt follow-on grant from Dana in June 2008 provided bridge financing to keep this project on the rails until the federal grant took over.

Monitoring cancer drugs in action: A new imaging technique developed by Caius Radu, M.D., and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, may provide a method for quickly predicting the effectiveness of a specific drug for a specific cancer patient. This work may bring "individualized treatment'' closer.

Radu and colleagues have devised a molecular probe that lights up specific molecules when viewed by positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. Previously, such scanning used probes that labeled those locations in which there was increased uptake of glucose, not a terribly specific measure. The Radu probe is much more precise, working through a specific enzyme that is expressed in tumor cells and also immunologically active ones. In 2009, with continuing Dana funding through 2010, they plan to test the safety of the probe in people. If that is successful, they will go on to test its effectiveness and to build new probes for different chemo drugs.

In “Learning, Arts, and the Brain”: Through our urban and rural grants as well as the Foundation's Arts and Cognition consortium, Dana has worked constructively with the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2008, the NEA embarked upon a multi-year program to encourage collaboration among state-level groups interested in fostering the teaching of the arts in public schools. Each session brings together teams from five states to discuss, analyze, and propose possible collaborations to work at the state level to foster the teaching of the arts. Dana offered to make available modest funding to some participants for pilot projects at the state level that would implement lessons learned at these sessions. We found Wisconsin’s proposal to be the most practical and ready for activation; it is the first state that will receive such support from us.

Arts and Autism: Three years ago, Dana provided grantmaking guidance and volunteer administrative help to the new Autism Speaks. It soon was able to merge with the National Alliance for Autism Research and Cure Autism Now to form a united research and advocacy organization to combat disorders along the autism spectrum. In 2007, we co-funded a 3-year imaging grant to investigate whether neuronal defects in the cerebral cortex were linked to autism.

Our interest in this brain development disorder, now recognized to be widespread, continues through another program: In 2008, one of the Dana arts-education grants went to the Center for Arts Education in New York, helping to establish a Teaching Artist Training Institute to equip artists who teach in public schools on Staten Island with the tools and knowledge to work with students on the autism spectrum. Since 2007, we have funded a similar program at Arts Horizons in Englewood, N.J. Both groups are receiving continuing funding in 2009.

The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: The success of a Dana Foundation challenge grant in 1982 to Sidney Farber Cancer Institute helped the Institute build a permanent endowment. It was a large commitment for the Foundation (nearly 10 percent of Dana’s own endowment a quarter-century ago); a year after that challenge grant, the trustees of the Institute renamed it the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (1983–2008). Dana had given previous grants, chiefly for building projects, and continues to support the work of the Institute.

New genome laboratory: A grant in honor of Nobelist and Dana Alliance vice chairman James D. Watson, Ph.D., will enable New York City students grades four and up to explore genetics and the scientific method at the new Harlem DNA lab—a series of classrooms in the John S. Roberts Educational Complex in East Harlem. The state-of-the-art genome lab opened in September 2008 and is a branch of the Dolan DNA Learning Center, itself part of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Advancing public awareness and support of brain research: Undergirding its concentration on grants in neuroscience, The Foundation funds outreach on brain research through: all the programs of the Dana Alliance and the European Dana Alliance; the periodicals and books on the brain and brain research published by Dana Press; a news office that has become a major resource for journalists reporting science; and the Web site that has become a reliable source for information on the brain and brain research. And of course, as mentioned above and described in detail in the electronic pages that follow in this annual report, Brain Awareness Week, now in its second decade, continued its growth.

In all, operations and grants in 2008 lived up to their promise and then some. In 2009, as noted at the start of this message, Dana president Ed Rover and I have the task of managing this grantmaking and operating foundation to make do with an endowment temporarily generating less of a return than in past decades. But we recall Theodore Roosevelt’s practical advice: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Dana is in existence to do all it can—which its record shows to be considerable—with the resources it has, in the vanguard of a cognitive mission bringing together “learning, arts, and the brain.”

— William Safire, Chairman

back to top