Philanthropists launch new research initiative

Priscilla Chan, noted philanthropist and pediatrician, and Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, announced the formation of the Chan Zuckerberg Science to find ways to “cure, treat or manage all diseases in our lifetime.” The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a charitable organization started by the couple, will invest $3 billion over the next decade for the effort.

Cornelia (Cori) Bargmann, currently a professor at The Rockefeller University, has been named the president of Chan Zuckerberg Science. Bargmann is a neurobiologist and has been an influential leader in recent, large-scale efforts such as the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies initiative. When it comes to conducting science, Bargmann said Chan Zuckerberg Science is looking for organizations and scientists who “share their vision and are willing to take the risk of trying out new collaborative scientific models that bring together scientists and engineers, build tools and reward people for working together across boundaries and institutions.”

Of interest to young scientists, Bargmann said that Chan Zuckerberg Science will support “a different career model [for young scientists], where we fund highly qualified, hands-on working scientists and engineers working within the network” of labs supported by Chan Zuckerberg Science grants. While we await more specifics, “highly qualified, hands-on working scientists” is strikingly similar to a description of staff scientists. If Chan Zuckerberg Science is going to fund staff scientists, this would likely be welcome by the scientific community, which has recommended expanding staff scientist positions in several reports and opinion pieces over the past several years, and postdocs have demonstrated a clear interest in the position. Furthermore, Shirley Tilghman and Harold Varmus, two Rescuing Biomedical Research founding members and members of the Chan Zuckerberg Science scientific advisory board, have actively championed the use of staff scientists.

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