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Zuckerberg, Chan Donate $10M to UCSF Computational Health Science Initiative

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The University of California, San Francisco, announced today that its Institute for Computational Health Sciences has received a $10 million donation from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

The ICHS, which was founded in 2015, is run by pediatrician and computer scientist Atul Butte. The donation from Zuckerberg and Chan, which is separate from the $3 billion Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative's investment in life science research, is the first gift of this kind for the ICHS, Butte told GenomeWeb in an email. "We are really saying this gift will launch the institute," he added.

The money will be used to support Butte's work in what he calls "data recycling," the university said in a statement. Rather than recruiting new groups of patients and collecting their information from scratch, Butte intends to collect millions of gigabytes of existing, publicly available data, and mine it for new insights into disease and possible cures.

Butte and his team are working on a project to integrate electronic health records from all five medical centers in the UC system, which collectively comprise the records from 15 million or more patients.

Members of Butte's lab have already shown that combing through databases in this manner can be useful in a number of ways — they have been able to use the insights they have gained through the recycling of data to combat liver cancer with a drug originally approved to kill parasitic worms, and to develop a computational method that rapidly predicts what other drugs might treat cancer, UCSF said.

"We are using the funds to build out new clinical databases for research, and engineer new ways to conduct research in computational biology through the development of knowledge networks at UCSF," Butte told GenomeWeb. "And if other aspects come to fruition, I am hopeful we can use some of these funds to gather our own ‘omics measurements (such as cancer sequencing, genome sequencing, or genotyping), with the hope of helping UCSF implement precision medicine for our patients."