The University of Minnesota received a $35 million donation Tuesday for a groundbreaking study of adolescent brain disorders.
Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs, said he believes it is one of the first studies of mental illness in young children in a university setting. The study continues the school’s work on the holistic approach on the subject, he said.
“We can look at early adverse events such as a parent in prison or if they have depression or an addiction and then change the environment around them,” he said. “You can then get the child normal stimuli from the outside to support a normal functioning brain.”
The donation continues the long relationship with the university’s largest single donor, the Minnesota Masonic Charities. The contribution will establish and name the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, an interdisciplinary initiative focused on the early diagnosis, prevention and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in early childhood and adolescence.
The university’s Medical School and College of Education and Human Development will study how the brain grows and develops during early childhood and adolescence — formative years when the brain is most receptive to positive intervention, Tolar said.
The group will research autism, ADHD, cognitive delays, drug addiction and severe depression, conditions that can often be identified early and have lifelong consequences.
“Our longstanding partnership with the University of Minnesota aligns with our mission to make meaningful contributions to society,” said Eric Neetenbeek, president and CEO of Minnesota Masonic Charities. “The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain is another example of how we can unite the incredible expertise of the University with the capacity of Minnesota Masonry to benefit our entire state and, indeed, the world.”
University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said in a statement: “Early support of brain health sets the stage for everything to come in life. The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain will help ensure that children have the strongest start for a safe, happy and productive life.”
Tolar said the study will focus on a baby’s first 1,000 days and adolescence, when the brain still has the ability to rewire its connections and make positive, lasting changes. He cited the importance of early intervention as 40% of university students report having a mental illness.
The Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, which is expected to open this fall, will form a research partnership with M Health Fairview, University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital and the University’s Biomedical Discovery District.
The 10.2-acre property includes a two-level building with a hospital, clinic and support area, as well as conference space and an attached parking lot.
“It’s not just how great their monetary gift is,” said Tolar. “It’s what they know needs to be studied next.”