Financial Industry Pioneers Give Major Boost to Next-Frontier Effort at CSHL in Quantitative Biology

Major grants from foundations led by Jim Simons and Hank Greenberg help launch CSHL's Center for Quantitative Biology

Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. -- Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s new, six-building   Hillside Campus will be home to a pathbreaking Center for Quantitative Biology (CQB), thanks to separate $10 million gifts from two far-seeing innovators renowned for changing the face of America’s financial industry.

The gifts, announced today, have been contributed by hedge fund innovator Jim Simons’ own Simons Foundation and The Starr Foundation, which is headed by insurance industry pioneer Maurice R. (“Hank”) Greenberg.

“Both Jim and Hank revolutionized key elements of the modern financial services industry, and they are now making major contributions to revolutionizing the future of biomedical research,” said CSHL President Bruce Stillman, Ph.D. “Generous gifts from philanthropic foundations headed by these two visionaries will allow CSHL to open new frontiers in biomedical research made possible by insights in mathematics, statistics and computer science.”

“Jim and I are very pleased to make this gift to the Laboratory,” said Simons Foundation President Marilyn Simons. “Recent technological advances are providing biologists with a huge volume of data that may lead to exciting breakthroughs in fields such as genomics and neurobiology.

“However, managing and analyzing this flood of information requires melding biology with the techniques of quantitative science. The new Center will allow leading biologists and quantitative scientists to collaborate on projects of significant impact. The Center will also help educate and disseminate research to the broader scientific community. We believe that the Center’s work will play a major role in using quantitative techniques to unlock the mysteries of the biological world.”

“We are pleased to help launch the Center for Quantitative Biology at CSHL,” said Maurice R. Greenberg, chairman of The Starr Foundation. “It is a logical and essential step in furthering the genomics programs we have supported over the years at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.”

Beyond Bioinformatics

The addition of CQB is “almost certain to increase the power of all research performed at CSHL,” Dr. Stillman observed. This, he said, was a reflection of the importance of mathematical and statistical insights in the forging of new approaches to problems and new ways of understanding the large sets of data now common in biological experiments.  

From the conceptualization of experiments to the organization of data to the interpretation of results, “mathematics has already been fully integrated into all phases of biological research,” noted Michael Wigler, Ph.D., CQB’s interim director. What makes CQB distinctive, he explained, will be the Center’s academic and cultural independence. “The Center is not only about making new tools to facilitate biological research — it’s also a means of drawing together under one roof some of the world’s most gifted mathematical minds, who will apply their insights in powerful ways that will change how we think about data itself.”

The idea for CQB was suggested a number of years ago by Wigler, who in his own lab has developed methods for comparative genome analysis that have provided important new insights into cancer and complex human genetic diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Mathematical and statistical insights are at the very heart of the technologies that have made these pioneering comparative genomic studies possible.

Wigler joined Stillman in saluting The Simons Foundation and The Starr Foundation for what Wigler called “their foresight” in understanding the importance of difficult-to-understand quantitative and mathematical work. “Both have taken great pains to understand how progress in biological research is tied to fundamental insights about math and statistics,” he said.

Background

The Simons Foundation
supports investigations into the physical sciences, mathematics and life sciences. In the area of math and the physical sciences, the Simons Foundation continues its support of premier research institutions around the world. Under the direction of trustee and founder Jim Simons, the foundation seeks to catalyze donations to these organizations through challenge grants and pledged contributions to their seed programs. In the life sciences too, the Simons Foundation offers institutional grants as well as more targeted research support. Its grant making has been diverse and includes such topics as systems biology, human evolution and math in biology, all of which probe important questions at the leading edges of knowledge. For more information, visit www.simonsfoundation.org.

The Starr Foundation was established in 1955 by Cornelius Vander Starr, an entrepreneur who founded C.V. Starr Co. and other companies which, under the leadership of Maurice R. Greenberg, Starr’s successor, became American International Group, Inc. Starr, a pioneer of globalization, set up his first insurance venture in Shanghai in 1919. He died in 1968 at 76, leaving his estate to the foundation. Starr’s wish was that his partners continue to run his foundation after his death. Greenberg serves as chairman of The Starr Foundation. Under his leadership, the foundation’s assets have grown from a few million dollars after Starr’s death to approximately $3 billion today, making it one of the largest private foundations in the United States. For more information, visit www.starrfoundation.org.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a private, not-for-profit research and education institution at the forefront of efforts in molecular biology and genetics to generate knowledge that will yield better diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurological diseases and other major causes of human suffering.  For more information, visit www.cshl.edu.

Written by: Dagnia Zeidlickis, VP of Communications | pubaff@cshl.edu | 516-367-8455