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Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to pour $3.4B over 10 years into AI, imaging and other tech to unravel biomedical challenges

December 12, 2021
Life sciences

Five years into its lofty goal of funding projects to “cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children’s lifetime,” the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Biohub is getting a major boost.

The philanthropic initiative—led by the husband-and-wife duo of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, M.D., formerly a practicing pediatrician—unveiled this week a 10-year plan to invest $3.4 billion in the development of new technologies and tools that help improve our understanding of human health and disease.

Between $800 million and $1 billion of the new funds will go to the Biohub, a CZI spokesperson told ABC News. The San Francisco-based research hub launched in 2016 with an initial commitment of about $600 million. Its first projects included the construction of the Cell Atlas, a map of the various types of cells that control each major organ, and the creation of the Infectious Disease Initiative to develop new diagnostic tests and vaccines to treat HIV, Ebola, Zika and other fast-spreading diseases.

The new funding will extend the hub’s operations to at least 2031. Another $1 billion, meanwhile, will help create the CZ Biohub Network, which will fund and build new research centers focused on long-term biomedical projects, with the first groundbreaking slated for 2023.

“Motivated in no small part by the pandemic, CZ Biohub will double down on efforts in both infectious disease and basic science by creating new technology platforms, foundational datasets and pipelines for cell biology at scale, while also expanding our pathogen detection efforts domestically and abroad,” said Joe DeRisi, president of the research center.

Outside of the Biohub, CZI is devoting hundreds of millions more to establishing two other R&D facilities.

“In addition to expanding our support for our core scientific programs in neurodegeneration, single-cell biology, imaging, open science, rare disease research and infectious disease research, over the next 10 years, CZI Science will focus on building new tools and technologies to measure human biology in action to benefit human health,” Chan said in a statement.

To that end, the Chan Zuckerberg Institute for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, for one, will spend the next 15 years uniting a range of scientists and technologists—with expertise in areas spanning artificial intelligence to physics to biomedical engineering—to develop new imaging systems that give clinicians a clearer view of the inner workings of the human body. It’ll receive between $600 million and $900 million to fund this work.

Finally, CZI will allot $500 million to the Kempner Institute for the Study of Natural and Artificial Intelligence, named for Zuckerberg’s mother and based at Harvard University. There, researchers will study both artificial and human intelligence, using the latter to inform the development of new, smarter AI that learns, remembers, senses and adapts like the human brain.

“To measure the human body in action with spatial accuracy, biochemical specificity and dynamic precision, we are going to need new instruments and analytical tools,” said Zuckerberg.

“How can the application of artificial intelligence to biological imaging create new insights into how cells and tissues function? How do interactions between cancer cells, surrounding tissues and the immune system promote or prevent tumor growth? How do the brain and the body communicate to regulate physiological and emotional states?” he continued. “Working with the scientific community, we will create the teams, build the instruments and validate the uses that make these and other breakthroughs possible.”

by Andrea Park


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