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September 28, 2016
As we enter the final quarter of 2016, it seems likely that this year will be remembered, at least in terms of healthcare, for the many sizeable initiatives that have been announced to aggressively research and fight disease. From the kickoff of the National Institutes of Health’s Precision Medicine Initiative, to the establishment of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, to the development of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, 2016 has certainly been a year of large-scale fund allocation and planning to get to the root of the biggest medical mysteries. This trend continued with last week’s announcement by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, that they will contribute $3 billion to accelerate healthcare research, with the goal of curing all diseases by the end of the century.
A multi-layered, ongoing endeavor, the “Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI)” will focus primarily on bringing scientists and engineers together to develop new tools to address leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, infectious diseases, and neurological diseases. The three core components of the initiative are one – bringing the scientists and engineers together, two – building new tools and technology, and three – growing the movement to fund scientific progress.
A key component of CZI is the creation of what the team is calling “Biohub”, a shared research space at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), that will be accessible by clinicians and researchers even outside of the project, with the goal of fostering shared ideas and learning. The University’s campus will serve as a collaborative “home base” for engineers, computer scientists, biologists, chemists, and other experts from Stanford, The University of California, Berkeley, and UCSF.
Biohub will develop cutting edge tools unlike any that healthcare has seen before, with the announcement citing advancements such as using artificial intelligence for brain scanning, creating diagnostic chips, and developing a cell atlas that would account for every location and molecular property of all the cells in the human body. Initially, Biohub will focus on the cell atlas and an infectious disease initiative, which will develop new tools, tests, vaccines, and strategies for fighting conditions such as HIV, Ebola, and the Zika virus. The remainder of the CZI funds will be used to create worldwide “challenge networks”, each comprised of 10 to 15 scientists working on especially urgent healthcare issues.
With medical research traditionally operating as a siloed system of individual health centers and the work of clinician researchers, it is refreshing to see that collaboration and diversification of the parties involved – combining clinician researchers with engineers – are driving forces behind the CZI. Zuckerberg and Chan are showing strongly that cross-functional, inter-national, and multi-disciplinary approaches will be critical to getting ahead in the eradication of disease.