Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
A $1.2 million gift from Dana and Betty Fisher aims to promote new collaborations and community among scientists at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT.
The annual Dana and Betty Fisher Retreat of the Picower Institute was endowed by their children in accordance with their parents' wish to further knowledge of memory and learning. Their daughter, Wendy Fisher, selected the Picower Institute after learning about its mission of unlocking the brain's secrets and applying the knowledge to fighting psychiatric and neurological illnesses.
"My parents encouraged a scientific approach to solving problems," said Fisher, who lives in Paris with her two children. "They were amazing people, and I hope the charitable fund they established will create a meaningful legacy for future generations."
"The Fishers' generous gift affords us the rare opportunity to take a few days each year to build community and foster scientific interaction and collaboration," said Mark F. Bear, director of the Picower Institute and Picower Professor of Neuroscience. "The history of science teaches that major breakthroughs often emerge from collaborations among scientists with different types of expertise. I predict that the ideas behind many important discoveries at the Picower Institute will be traced back to discussions begun at the Dana and Betty Fisher retreat."
Dana Fisher was a lifelong aviator who helped build TWA into an international airline. Betty Fisher was a correspondent for Time-Life in the 1940s when she met her future husband in Cairo. They raised Wendy and her three siblings on a farm in the Palo Verde Valley, where Dana Fisher worked to support water and land-use rights for the region's growers and Betty Fisher served the community through the local hospital and schools.
The Picower Institute's latest retreat, its seventh, was held last spring in Falmouth, Mass. More than 150 representatives from 15 laboratories, including two affiliated with the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, participated.
The Picower Institute's diverse array of brain scientists seek to unravel the mechanisms that drive the quintessentially human capacity to remember and to learn, as well as related functions such as perception, attention and consciousness.
With a broad range of scientific backgrounds, Picower faculty members study the brain from the level of molecules, genes and cells to systems biology and the cognitive system as a whole.