The Alana Foundation, based in São Paulo, Brazil, has just donated $28.6 million to MIT. MIT announced on Wednesday that this donation will be used to establish the Alana Down Syndrome Center. This research centre will “combine the expertise of scientists and engineers to improve understanding of the biology and neuroscience associated with Downsyndrome” to “advance understanding, ability and inclusion”. The objective is twofold. First, it aims to improve understanding of how Down syndrome functions by developing clinical trials, exploring the brain via advanced techniques, and funding research grants. Secondly, it aims to design and develop new technological applications that will improve the quality of life of people with mental disabilities, promote their integration into society and the world of work, and give them better access to education.
The Alana Foundation is a non-profit organization established by Ana Lucia Villela and Marcos Nisti, two Brazilians from São Paulo, one of whose daughters is herself a Down syndrome carrier. The Alana Foundation first donation ($1.7 million) to MIT was made in 2015. This previous donation was used to “fund studies to create new laboratory models of Down syndrome and to improve understanding of the mechanisms of the disorder and potential therapies”.
This time round, establishing the Alana Down Syndrome Center will fund research across neuroscience, biology, engineering and computing, as well as a four-year programme called ‘Technology to Improve Ability’. Ana Lucia Villela explained that “it’s an innovative approach that doesn’t focus on the disability but, instead, focuses on the barriers that can prevent people with Down syndrome from thriving in life in their own way”.
“At MIT, we value frontier research, particularly when it is aimed at making a better world,” said Rafael Reif, MIT’s president. “The Alana Foundation’s inspiring gift will position MIT’s researchers to investigate new pathways to enhance and extend the lives of people with Down syndrome. We are grateful to the foundation’s leadership — President Ana Lucia Villela and Co-President Marcos Nisti — for entrusting our community with this critical challenge”.
For further reading:
 Massachusetts Institute of Technology: an American research institute and university. Specializing in science and technology. Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
 Down syndrome is also known as trisomy-21, the most common form.
Washington Times (20/03/2019)
MIT News, David Orenstein (20/03/2019)