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For Penn Medicine faculty and administrators, an anonymous $16.3 million donation at the end of 2011 marks the beginning of the path toward dominance in the fields of neuroscience and behavior.

This donation establishes the Neuroscience of Behavior Initiative, which will fund faculty recruitment and interdisciplinary research, and is expected to grow upwards of $100 million as the donors continue to contribute to the initiative.

The donation is the single-largest gift to support neuroscience research and practice in Penn Medicine’s history.

“The goal is really to make important contributions in three general areas, which we are loosely calling neuroscience and behavior,” said Perelman School of Medicine professor Brian Strom, who is leading the initiative.

These three general areas include substance abuse, neurodegenerative diseases and depression.

“These are all areas where the school is already strong and the idea is to make it the best in the world,” Strom said.

Medical School Dean Larry Jameson agreed.

“Today, Penn is one of the few places in the world with the depth of expertise and experience to launch such a comprehensive, scientifically rigorous and outcomes-oriented program,” Jameson said in a statement. “This transformative gift will allow us to innovate in areas of medicine that impact millions of patients directly and society as a whole.”

The donation represents a three-year budget for the new initiative. However, there is a 10- to 20-year timeline for faculty recruitment. These new faculty members will be recruited by a committee, not by individual departments.

“We will continue to provide [the donors] feedback about what we do with the money,” Strom said, adding that this will enable further giving to the program over the years.

“This is just a fabulous gift that will transform what we are able to do to build these treatment programs,” Medical School professor and Director of the Institute on Aging John Trojanowski, said.

A large goal right now is encouraging communication between different departments, which Strom believes will help distinguish the program.

“Penn is much better than other places in doing interdisciplinary work,” he said.

When looking outside the University to recruit faculty, the initiative is looking for more specialists who will advance Penn’s research.

“We need to recruit people with expertise in the growing field of bioinformatics to deal with very large data sets,” Trojanowski said. Some of the other areas for recruitment include epidemiology, biomarker science and RNA biology.

Past barriers in developing programs at the Medical School have included a lack of resources to recruit faculty with starting salary packages, he added. The recent commitment of funds will allow for a “running start” for faculty, he said.

“The goal is to take these areas and build Penn’s already strong programs into the best programs in the world — cutting across departments, cutting across schools and integrating in an interdisciplinary way, ” Strom said.

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