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How Many Cures Can $3 Billion Buy?

Through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, pediatrician Priscilla Chan, said they plan to donate $3 billion over the next decade to be invested in basic science research, with the aim of finding cures for various diseases.

"While the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has already made investments in charter schools and education start-ups, the money toward curing diseases represents the group's first major initiative in science," The New York Times reports. "The announcement was also a coming out of sorts for Dr. Chan, who has a big interest in health and was trained in pediatrics."

ScienceInsider reports that the new initiative will be led by Rockefeller University neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann, and says Zuckerberg and Chan have been consulting for two years with "dozens of scientific luminaries." (UC Santa Cruz says university genomicist David Haussler was one of these scientists. In a statement, Haussler said that the initiative "is poised to transform biomedicine with empowering new technology and a new spirit of cooperation.")

The first $600 million tranche of the $3 billion investment will be allocated to a research center in San Francisco's Mission Bay, and will be named the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, ScienceInsider says. It will be led by Stanford's Stephen Quake and UCSF biochemist and infectious disease expert Joseph DeRisi. They plan to hire researchers and engineers from both schools to work on a cell atlas describing the molecular characteristics of all types of human cells, using technologies like single cell sequencing and genome editing, Quake tells ScienceInsider. Biohub researchers also plan to work on developing new early detection tools and vaccines for various infectious diseases.

ScienceInsider conducted a Q&A with Bargmann in which it asked her whether the initiative's goal of curing or managing all diseases by 2100 is actually doable. "First of all, do you know how much medicine has advanced in the past 80 years?" Bargmann responded. "Even in our lifetime in terms of heart disease and cancer and AIDs. Why should that stop now? Shouldn't that actually accelerate now that we've developed more skills and become more sophisticated? The second part is, part of the genius of this [initiative], that long-term timeframe. That was something that Mark and Priscilla had been thinking about even before they talked to me. And that was what made me think they were on the right track. Because there are a lot of problems you can't do in two years or five years. There are a lot of problems that will take decades. But if you know they're important, you keep working on them."

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