UC San Diego: Kavli Foundation Donates $5M to UC San Diego Brain and Cognition Research

From studying the effects of traumatic brain injuries to reproducing a songbird’s vocalization with the goal of finding vocal prostheses for those who have lost their ability to speak, the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM) at the University of California San Diego and The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is at the forefront of brain and mind research. The Kavli Foundation, which established and endowed KIBM in 2004 with an initial $13.5 million, now brings an additional $5 million to UC San Diego, matching the gifts of generous donors including Joan and Irwin Jacobs; William and Marisa Rastetter; Sandra Timmons ’81 and Rick Sandstrom ’72, Ph.D. ’78; and an anonymous donor.

“We are so grateful to The Kavli Foundation for continued support of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind,” said Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “This match served to double the impact of our generous donors who share our dedication to furthering our understanding of the human brain and cognition, with the goal of making discoveries that have potential to benefit people around the world.”

The matching challenge was established by The Kavli Foundation in 2018 to drive critical, cross-disciplinary research of the brain and mind. All donations raised were part of the match count toward the Campaign for UC San Diego, the university’s comprehensive fundraising effort concluding in June 2022.

KIBM members represent expertise from various fields including neuroscience, biology, cognitive science, psychology and medicine. The Kavli Institute is composed of select faculty from the UC San Diego campus and The Salk Institute, bringing together some of the top minds in brain and cognition research from across the Torrey Pines mesa.

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The Fred Kavli Auditorium in Tata Hall was named in honor of the founder of The Kavli Foundation.

“We are thrilled to support the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at UC San Diego and applaud Chancellor Khosla, university leadership and faculty, on their successful Campaign for UC San Diego,” remarked Cynthia M. Friend, president of The Kavli Foundation. “The Kavli Foundation supports basic research in neuroscience, nanoscience, astrophysics and theoretical physics and views KIBM and the other Kavli Institutes around the world as the vanguard of basic research in these fields, and helping in our aim to advance science for the benefit of humanity.”

The Kavli Foundation’s $5 million matching donation served to leverage gifts from generous donors to support brain and mind research and related faculty across UC San Diego. In addition, the impact of the donor gifts designated to faculty chairs and fellowships was expanded even further with UC San Diego matching funds from the Chancellor’s Endowed Chair and Faculty Fellowship Challenge. Gifts from donors included:

An anonymous gift established the Jeff Elman Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Cognitive Science in honor of the late former dean of the School of Social Sciences and founding co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind.
UC San Diego alumni Sandra Timmons and Rick Sandstrom established the Kavli and Sandstrom-Timmons Human Brain Development Endowed Research Fund, in addition to the Kavli and Sandstrom-Timmons Endowed Faculty Fellowship in Human Brain Development.
Joan and Irwin Jacobs established two faculty fellowships&mmash;the Joan and Irwin Jacobs and Kavli Foundation Chancellor’s Endowed Faculty Fellowship for Engineering the Brain and the Mind I and II.
William and Marisa Rastetter created the Kavli and Dr. William and Marisa Rastetter Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Neurobiology.
The Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind is designed to bring together top researchers from varied disciplines, including a recent cross-collaborative effort between engineers and neuroscientists at UC San Diego and The Salk Institute. KIBM researchers Timothy Gentner, a UC San Diego professor of psychology and neurobiology and Vikash Gilia, a UC San Diego professor of electrical and computer engineering were able to re-create a bird’s song by reading only its brain activity, in a groundbreaking proof-of-concept study. The researchers were able to reproduce the songbird’s complex vocalizations down to the pitch, volume and timbre of the original, exploring principles that may someday allow scientists to build vocal prostheses for individuals who have lost the ability to speak.

The Gilja and Gentner labs worked together to develop neural recording technologies and neural decoding strategies that leveraged both teams’ expertise in neurobiological and behavioral experiments.

In another example of recent Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind research, scientists found that fruit flies demonstrate more advanced cognitive abilities than previously believed. Using a custom-built immersive virtual reality arena, neurogenetics and real-time brain activity imaging, KIBM researchers found attention, working memory and conscious awareness-like capabilities in fruit flies—showing increasing similarities between the human and fruit-fly brain.

”We are extremely grateful to The Kavli Foundation and the matching donors,” said Yishi Jin, a professor in the UC San Diego School of Biological Sciences, KIBM co-director and holder of the Junior Seau Chair in Biological Sciences, which was also supported by The Kavli Foundation. “The growth of the KIBM endowment fund is allowing us to start new initiatives including a postdoctoral fellow program and a summer science training program, in partnership with Colors of the Brain, to fund under-represented UC San Diego undergraduates.”

The UC San Diego student organization Colors of the Brain and KIBM have joined forces to launch the CoB-KIBM Scholars Program, a summer undergraduate research program designed to motivate, mentor and facilitate the transition of undergraduate students at UC San Diego that come from disadvantaged economic and social backgrounds, as well as students with disabilities, into Ph.D. programs with significant relevance to neuroscience.

The CoB-KIBM Scholars Program offers a paid, full-time research position across 10 weeks within a laboratory at UC San Diego or The Salk Institute, along with mentorship and support for navigating academic research for the remainder of their undergraduate education.

The Kavli Foundation has given more than $18 million to UC San Diego. In recognition of the foundation’s longtime support of UC San Diego, the auditorium in Tata Hall was named the Fred Kavli Auditorium, and the 6th floor was dedicated as a research hub to understand brain and mind.

Philanthropic support, like this from The Kavli Foundation, contributes to the Campaign for UC San Diego, the university’s comprehensive fundraising effort which concludes in June 2022. Alongside UC San Diego’s philanthropic partners, the university is continuing its nontraditional path toward revolutionary ideas, unexpected answers, lifesaving discoveries and planet-changing impact.

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