Minnesota Masons give $35 million to the University of Minnesota to establish first-of-its-kind institute devoted to brain development

The University of Minnesota has announced a $35 million gift from Minnesota Masonic Charities, an organization that is the University’s largest single donor. This contribution will establish and name the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, an interdisciplinary initiative focused on the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in early childhood and adolescence.

Led by the University’s Medical School and College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), this unique institute will bring together teams of researchers and clinicians who study how the brain grows and develops during early childhood and adolescence-formative years when the brain is most receptive to positive intervention.
Working together under one roof at the site of the former Shriners Healthcare for Children campus in Minneapolis, an array of experts will tackle such disorders as autism, ADHD, cognitive delays, drug addiction and severe depression, conditions that can often be identified early and have lifelong consequences.

"Our long-standing partnership with the University of Minnesota aligns with our mission to make meaningful contributions to society," said Eric Neetenbeek, president and CEO of Minnesota Masonic Charities. "The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain is another example of how we can unite the incredible expertise of the University with the capacity of Minnesota Masonry to benefit our entire state and, indeed, the world."

University of Minnesota President Joan T. A. Gabel, who has made student mental health one of her top priorities, believes the support will improve lives when it matters most. "Early support of brain health sets the stage for everything to come in life," she said. "Thanks to the Masons’ transformative gift, the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain will help ensure that children have the strongest start for a safe, happy and productive life."

In addition to the lead gift from Minnesota Masonic Charities, the University has received generous philanthropic investments in the new institute from the Lynne & Andrew Redleaf Foundation, Otto Bremer Trust, Blythe Brenden-Mann Foundation and Drs. Gail A. Bernstein and Thomas J. Davis Trust.

The institute’s mission commits the University’s world-leading expertise in neuroscience, imaging, child psychology, adolescent psychiatry, developmental disorders and related fields to study precisely how the healthy brain grows and what throws it off course. With this knowledge, doctors and other mental health providers can get young brains back on track before early stressors-such as malnutrition, trauma and exposure to toxins-lead to lifelong complications that can have huge social and economic costs.

"During critical periods-particularly a baby’s first 1,000 days and adolescence-the brain still has the ability to rewire its connections and make positive, lasting changes," said Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs. "Early intervention is often a key."

Access is another hurdle facing those who may suffer from symptoms of mental health conditions. That’s a challenge CEHD Dean Jean Quam believes expertise in her college can help address. "Our work in interdisciplinary training, telehealth and community outreach will increase access to families and serve as a model for collaboration."

The institute’s co-directors, Michael Georgieff and Damien Fair, will lead the institute’s cross-disciplinary team of clinicians and researchers. Georgieff, who holds appointments in the Medical School and CEHD, is founding director of the University’s Center for Neurobehavioral Development. Fair, a national expert in behavioral neuroscience and brain imaging, was recently recruited from Oregon Health & Science University and will join the CEHD and Medical School faculties in July.

Slated to open at its East River Parkway location in fall 2021, the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain will form a research triangle with M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and the University’s Biomedical Discovery District. The 10.2-acre property includes a two-level building with a hospital, clinic, and support area, as well as conference space and an attached parking lot.

Minnesota Masonic Charities’ philanthropic legacy at the U of M:  With support from Minnesota Masons, the University built the 80-bed Masonic Memorial Hospital in 1958 and the Masonic Cancer Research Building in the mid-’90s. Minnesota Masonic Charities’ historic $65 million pledge in 2008 to name the Masonic Cancer Center continues to advance major research discoveries. A $10 million gift from the Masons built the Masonic Cancer Clinic, which provides premier cancer care in the M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center on the Twin Cities campus. In addition, a $25 million gift made in 2014 to enhance pediatric research and care brought the Masons’ total giving to $125 million and led to the renaming of M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Now, with its latest gift of $35 million to establish and name the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, Minnesota Masonic Charities has contributed more than $160 million to the University of Minnesota to accelerate research discoveries in cancer and children’s health that will improve lives throughout Minnesota and beyond. Click here to view a timeline of giving and the relationship between MMC and the U of M.


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