Duke University has received a $15 million grant from The Marcus Foundation for research focused on umbilical cord blood cells to treat autism, stroke and other neurological disorders.

The foundation, started by Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus in 1989, is dedicated to funding research in these fields, and has also provided funding to City of Hope, Piedmont Hospital, and Emory University, among others.

The Duke award enables cell therapy expert Joanne Kurtzberg, M.D., and leading autism authority Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, to pioneer new treatment approaches and cell-based therapies that could potentially benefit many autism patients.

Employee Spurs Autism Interest

Marcus’s interest in autism began, as many of his charitable endeavors have, with an employee. In the early 1990s, when a Home Depot associate in Atlanta started missing work and showing up sleepless and distraught, Marcus took her aside and asked what was wrong. She said she had a son who was exhibiting “strange” behavior that baffled doctors. There was virtually no help available at that time to diagnose and treat autism.

When Marcus could not locate an autism treatment clinic, he started a center himself in collaboration with Emory University.

Seeking to Bring Hope to Millions

With the Duke award, the foundation said, “Hopefully, Duke’s research will be beneficial to all ages, and if successful, the study could identify therapies for further evaluation in clinical trials to potentially decrease disabilities and improve the quality of life for millions of individuals.”

The Marcus Foundation grant to Duke is an excellent example of how foundation funding can accelerate development of therapeutics for diseases that are poorly addressed by current treatments.

Since the North Carolina Biotechnology Center organized the 2013 Southeast Venture Philanthropy Summit, numerous North Carolina organizations have benefited from foundation funding. These include NeuroGate (Epilepsy Foundation) and two NCBiotech portfolio companies: Eboo Pharmaceuticals (funding from Michael J. Fox Foundation) and BioKier (American Heart Association).

NCBiotech maintains an extensive list of foundations that provide research and development funding to companies and/or academic researchers. We hope it can help more researchers across the state tap into the many benefits of foundation partnerships.

(C) NC Biotechnology Center