The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research through grants and provides brain information to the public through publications and educational programs. It was established in 1950 in New York City by Charles A. Dana, a legislator, industrialist, and philanthropist who became its first chairman. In partnership with his wife, Eleanor Naylor Dana, they fostered development of funding programs primarily focused on cancer research, higher education, and the arts. The Foundation’s grants helped support the Sidney Farber Cancer Center, which was renamed the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in honor of the partnership.
In 1977, David Mahoney, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, was elected Foundation chairman and, in 1983, he turned his full-time attention to the Foundation, which focused on medical research and training in epidemiology, environmental health, and aging issues. In the mid-eighties, the Foundation gave its first neuroscience grants to five medical centers to train clinical-investigators in neurology and neurosurgery. In 1992, Mahoney, who was now also president, steered the Foundation to focus almost exclusively on research and education about the brain.
The Foundation took another step in 1994 when it initiated a neuroimaging grant program designed to help new career investigators test novel hypotheses and develop pilot data. This program proved instrumental in enabling these neuroscientists to successfully compete for larger-scale funding from the National Institutes of Health and other sources. Helping steer the grants program was Guy M. McKhann, M.D., a neuroscience pioneer and professor at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, who would serve more than 30 years in the role of scientific adviser.
The Foundation’s grant program evolved to also include brain-body interaction as well as clinical neuroscience research that supported first-in-man studies of brain therapies. There was also new interest in educating the public about the progress and promise of brain science, which accelerated with an array of print and Internet publications and public awareness programs. Their common objective was to enable lay audiences to make more informed decisions about personal health care and about the importance of funding for medical research.
In 1992, following President George H.W. Bush’s proclamation that the 1990s would be the “Decade of the Brain,” the Foundation funded and participated in a gathering of leading neuroscientists and brain research advocates at Cold Spring Harbor, NY, to discuss why brain research wasn’t receiving more public or financial support in light of such a proclamation. Out of this meeting came plans for the creation of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives in 1993 and a European offshoot, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, in 1997. Today, the Dana Alliances include almost 700 members from 44 countries, all joined by the common interest in advancing public awareness about the brain and the importance of brain research.
The Foundation took another step in bridging the public awareness and advocacy gap between neuroscientists and the public in 1996 by organizing Brain Awareness Week, an annual global education initiative currently involving more than 5,600 partners in 120 countries.
The Foundation continued to evolve in the 2000s under chairman William Safire, a prominent columnist for the New York Times, who led the move to disseminate more information about neuroscience. The Foundation began publishing news articles, briefing papers, and Cerebrum, a monthly research-based publication written by neuroscientists. The Foundation also launched Dana Press, a publishing imprint that focused on various aspects of brain science.
In recognition of the growing impact of brain science on society, the Foundation in 2002 underwrote a gathering of more than 150 neuroscientists, bioethicists, professors of law and public policy, and others for a two-day Neuroethics: Mapping the Field meeting in San Francisco. That meeting led to the establishment of the International Neuroethics Society, whose founding president, Steven E. Hyman, M.D., serves as current chairman of the Foundation.
Recognizing threats from infectious diseases, the Foundation in 2002 added grant programs in neuroimmunology and human immunology, with guidance from McKhann and Rockefeller University immunologist and Nobel Laureate Ralph M. Steinman, M.D. These programs were among the nation’s first research efforts designed to lead to potential immunotherapies.
Edward F. Rover, a prominent New York attorney who had served as president, assumed the additional role of chairman in 2010 as the Foundation expanded its free editorial offerings for the general public and continued its Successful Aging & the Brain program to seniors. Under Rover’s leadership, the Foundation pursued its interest in the intersection of law and neuroscience and was instrumental in the development of Neuroscience and the Law Judicial Seminars in the US and UK.
Since its founding in 1950, the Foundation has appropriated in excess of $455 million for philanthropic purposes and continues to fund cutting-edge neuroscience research and expand its outreach and partnerships with other organizations. Under the leadership of current Chairman Hyman and President Burton M. Mirsky, the Dana Foundation remains committed to funding neuroscience grants and a variety of outreach programs and initiatives.