When it comes to solving the complex neurological puzzles behind autism spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s disease and a host of other neurological impairments, award-winning medical investigator Huda Zoghbi believes basic science is the best first step: “The less we know about a medical problem from a basic research point of view, the more we struggle, and the more we know about it, the more we’re likely to find solutions.”
Winner of the 2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her groundbreaking work uncovering the genes essential for normal neurodevelopment, Dr. Zoghbi is also the president of the board of the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, an independent charitable organization that’s invested more than $71 million in neuroscience since its start in 1986.
Little known outside of neuroscience circles, and led by a select team of renowned scientists in the field, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience has helped empower hundreds of path-breaking discoveries, from revealing the genes that control our memories to uncovering the receptors that encode our sense of taste and smell.
The oldest of The McKnight Foundation’s research programs, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience is a direct legacy of founder William L. McKnight. He created the McKnight Scholars Awards in 1977 to support early career scientists focused on brain research as a means for improving the prevention, detection and treatment of learning and memory disorders. Over the last 40 years, that continuous commitment has helped to fund innovative investigations led by more than 450 scientists. The program counts nine Nobel laureates among its alumni, from Julius Axelrod (Physiology or Medicine, 1970) to Roger Tsien and Martin Chalfie (Chemistry, 2008).
“McKnight has always understood that you have to support the basic fundamental research in order to have an understanding of what’s going on — and then the answers will flow.”
—Dr. Huda Zoghbi, Endowment Fund Board President
Three awards are bestowed each year, one for breakthroughs in Memory and Cognitive Disorders, one for Technological Innovations in Neuroscience, and one for Scholars in the early stages of their careers. With an annual invitation-only conference, the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience has also helped to establish a critical network of collaboration and creative problem-solving among leading researchers over the last 30 years. One of the first private funders to invest in the basic science of brain research a generation ago, new discoveries made by McKnight-funded scholars and scientists are deepening our understanding of such impairments as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries, creating new technologies and paving the way to possible treatment paths every year.
“There are some problems my collaborators and I have been looking at for 20, 25, 30 years, where we finally feel we are almost touching how we can change the course of the disease to make life better for affected individuals,” Dr. Zoghbi says, noting that getting down to “ground zero” on brain science has been essential to those discoveries. “McKnight has always understood that you have to support the basic fundamental research in order to have an understanding of what’s going on — and then the answers will flow.”