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:
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.”
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.