Higher education

University of Iowa lands $45 million Carver grant for neuroscience

Gift marks the biggest in an eight-year fundraising campaign

The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The Old Capitol building is shown in Iowa City on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has unveiled a $45 million grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust for the creation of a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary neuroscience center — marking the largest single gift in a historic UI fundraising campaign that is about to come to a close.

A new Iowa Neuroscience Institute, supported with the Carver gift and to be housed within the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, will facilitate research aimed at identifying causes, preventions, treatments, and cures for diseases that affect the brain and nervous system.

The $45 million gift is the largest in the UI Foundation’s current fundraising campaign, launched in 2008 with a goal of bringing in $1.7 billion by the end of this year. The campaign surpassed its goal in March, and the total currently stands at $1.85 billion — without the $45 million Carver grant, which must be approved by the Board of Regents.

The Carver Charitable Trust and Roy and Lucille Carver have become the largest UI donors, with collective giving topping $195 million, according to a university news release. Jean Robillard, vice president for medical affairs with UI Health Care and dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, told The Gazette the trust made its first commitment to the medical college in 2001 and wanted to give again.

“We proposed different programs and they decided to go with neuroscience believing this is the last frontier in terms of science,” Robillard said. “This is the one that probably is in need of major advancement.”

The Board of Regents in December will consider a UI request to make the “Iowa Neuroscience Institute” name official. Robillard said the family didn’t want the institute to bear the Carver label.

“The Carver trust wanted to name it the Iowa Neuroscience Institute,” Robillard said. “They want the institute to belong to the people of Iowa.”

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According to board documents, initial costs associated with the institute are estimated at more than $27.4 million in the first five years. The Carver trust’s $45 million grant to UI will provide “major program endowment and support,” according to board documents.

Specifically, the gift will support creation and maintenance of core neuroscience labs; “research programs of excellence” to faculty showing outstanding research leadership; and five faculty chairs, four professorships, and 10 junior-level investigators.

Troy Ross, executive administrator of the Carver trust, said the goal of the investment is to help the institute coalesce around a newly named director — Ted Abel. Currently serving as the Brush Family Professor of Biology in the Penn School of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Biological Basis of Behavior Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Abel will join the UI faculty in January.

Abel will make a $305,000 salary at UI, according to UI Health Care. That hire, along with the Carver gift, are expected to enable further faculty recruitment, according to Robillard.

“There is no question about this,” he said. “People usually are attracted by the fact that they have collaborators — that you have a culture of sharing and collaboration, that you have great people around.”

Those are things students and young faculty look for in an institutional home.

“The second thing is resources to back this up,” Robillard said. “I think you have really a winning combination.”

The Board of Regents formally approved creation of the new institute in May, and Robillard said that move and the Carver gift will further elevate the university’s brain science endeavors, which already are among the foremost in the world.

The institute’s nucleus will be housed in the UI Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building but will bring together top scholars from across campus — including biologists, computer scientists, neuropsychologists, engineers, fundamental chemists, biochemists, and geneticists. It will enable researchers to tackle the toughest problems in the neurosciences — including diseases like epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.

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The Carver trust was founded after Roy J. Carver died in 1981. The university in 2002 named its College of Medicine after Carver and his wife following their commitment of more than $90 million toward medical research.

“As the largest donor to the UI, and the largest donor to our ‘For Iowa. Forever More.’ campaign, the Carver Charitable Trust has a profound impact on our university, ensuring that we remain on the forefront of medicine and discovery,” said UI Foundation President Lynette Marshall.

In a statement, UI President Bruce Harreld praised the trust’s “unsurpassed and unwavering support” for the UI over nearly 30 years.

“The Carver name is forever linked with significant scientific discoveries and advanced treatments to cure diseases and transform lives,” Harreld said in the statement. “This new grant furthers that legacy, benefiting Iowans and the world.”

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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