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The Dana Foundation Launches Multi-Million Dollar Initiative to Align Neuroscience to Societal Needs

Initial Partners Include the University of California Los Angeles, Charles R. Drew University, and Loyola University Chicago

April 10, 2024

The Dana Foundation today announced the launch of the Dana Center Initiative for Neuroscience & Society. The multi-million-dollar initiative brings together leading academic institutions, neuroscientists, and the communities they serve to co-create the future of neuroscience. The Dana Center Initiative will connect multidisciplinary scholars and the public to learn, exchange ideas, and forge collaborations. It will also train a new generation of experts who will help shepherd neuroscience for a better world.

“Nearly all scientific disciplines are rapidly evolving, but none so quickly or with such great influence on people’s lives as neuroscience – from the impact of urban noise on mental health to the proliferation of neurotechnology that can read and write our brain activity,” said Caroline Montojo, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Dana Foundation. “The Dana Center Initiative is about bringing new talent into the field while facilitating exchange with the public; where do we want neuroscience to take us, how far is too far, and where can it most benefit our lives?”

“Together with our partners, we seek to align the aims of researchers and the communities they serve by centering consideration of societal needs throughout the research and development process,” Montojo said.

Community Partnered Neuroscience

The first Dana Center Initiative grant is launching at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), the only federally designated Historically Black institution west of Texas and home to one of four Historically Black Medical Schools in the country. Under a five-year matched funds partnership totaling $9.8 million, the universities and the Dana Foundation will bring together scholars from neuroscience, social sciences, education, policy, and the humanities to work with local clinician-scholars, community partners, and organizations in South Los Angeles to reimagine the relationship between neuroscience and the public. The Center will be an incubator for community-partnered research collaborations and training multidisciplinary neuro-society experts.

“For neuroscience to serve society, it must reflect the experiences of those whose needs and expertise have been historically underrepresented,” said Helena Hansen, M.D., Ph.D., professor and interim chair of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, interim director of the UCLA Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, co-principal investigator of the Center.

“In partnership with the Dana Foundation, the UCLA-CDU Dana Center will explore what it means to practice neuroscience in and with community,” added Denese Shervington, M.D., M.P.H., professor and department chair of psychiatry at CDU, a UCLA Health Sciences clinical professor of psychiatry, co-principal investigator of the Center. “We hope to foster new types of experts in the field, including neuroscientists who are able to lead community participatory research and social and clinical scholars able to navigate methods of neuroscience.”

Developing the NeuroSTEM Workforce

The Dana Foundation is also partnering with Loyola University Chicago under a two-year program grant totaling $1 million. Together, they will establish a student-focused, interdisciplinary “train the trainers” approach to neuro education within the Chicagoland community. The program aims to create a pipeline to neuroscience careers by developing STEM interest among middle and high school students. It will also provide community micro-grants and host challenges in arts, business, and journalism to explore linkages between neuroscience and the community.

“The Dana Program for Neuroscience and Society aspires to invigorate neuroscience education as well as broaden connections between neuroscience and a variety of non-STEM fields,” said M. William Rochlin, Ph.D., associate professor and director of molecular/cellular neuroscience, Loyola University Chicago, director of the Program. “Fundamental to both endeavors is coupling the science to its societal impacts and ethical ramifications. By introducing these linkages early in the educational ecosystem, neuroscience will become more inviting, more inclusive, and more integrated with society to create lasting changes.”

Building the Future of Neuroscience and Society

Additional Dana Center Initiative for Neuroscience & Society grants are expected to be announced over the coming months and years as part of a sustained, long-term investment in the Dana Center Initiative.

“We evaluated more than 40 universities with which to launch the Dana Center Initiative,” said Khara Ramos, Ph.D., vice president of Neuroscience & Society at the Dana Foundation. “We congratulate the leadership of our partners at UCLA, CDU, and Loyola University Chicago in bringing forward bold new ideas to make neuroscience more accessible and responsive. We look forward to further investment in the Dana Center Initiative to create positive impact at a community level and to give aspiring neuroscience and society scholars and practitioners the training and support to lead the field in the future.”

“The Dana Center Initiative changes the paradigm of how neuroscience research happens, and we hope it can become a model for all scientific disciplines,” said Steven E. Hyman, M.D., chairman of the board at the Dana Foundation. “Through initiatives like this one, science can more actively reflect the people it serves.”


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