Advancing the study of rare diseases, including familial amyloid polyneuropathy (FAP), is the goal of a new research institute to be founded at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical School.
The new institute is possible thanks to a substantial donation from the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation in China. Li Weibo, the organization’s founder and the parent of a child with a rare disease, donated $10 million for the institute, which will be named the Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research. An additional $750,000 will be earmarked for annual scholarships for doctoral students at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
The sizable donation amounts to nearly half of Li Weibo’s total wealth. University officials noted that it is one of the largest charitable gifts in the school’s history.
“I am eager to support this globally leading medical school in establishing a rare diseases institute in the hope of helping more patients and their family members who need our help,” Weibo said in a news release.“The diseases are rare, but the love, care and compassion in our society is abundant and we want to support these families in their time of need.”
Guangping Gao, PhD, a professor at UMass Medical School, will lead the new institute alongside Michael Green, MD, PhD, a professor and department chair of molecular, cell, and cancer biology. Green is also the director of UMass Medical School Cancer Center and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
The new institute will focus on advancing ongoing research in RNA biology and RNA interference technology, a tool that uses RNA molecules to inhibit and study gene expression. The facility will host the school’s faculty conducting studies in diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cystic fibrosis, Rett syndrome, Huntington’s disease, and Canavan disease.
“This extraordinary gift from the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation bolsters UMass Medical School’s world-class research and creates new opportunity for its world-class students,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Expanding rare disease research at UMass Medical School directly supports the UMass mission to improve lives in the commonwealth, across the nation and throughout the world.”