Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has received a $15 million commitment from longtime benefactors Philip and Sima Needleman to support two cutting-edge research centers aimed at developing new treatments for diseases that collectively affect millions. The Needlemans have a long relationship with the university; Philip served as head of the former Department of Pharmacology, and Sima, a social worker, worked at the former Jewish Hospital of St. Louis and has been a key volunteer leader at the Brown School.
Of the gift, $10 million will fund the newly established Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Autophagy Therapeutics and Research, and $5 million will fund the new Philip and Sima Needleman Center for Neurometabolism and Axonal Therapeutics.
The gift will help to advance promising research in two major areas of medical science. One center will focus on understanding autophagy, a vital cellular waste recycling system that has been implicated in many processes that affect health, including aging, infections, inflammatory diseases, obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis and cancer.
A second center will focus on the metabolism of neurons — how they burn energy — and how that impacts the health of the nervous system. Because energy metabolism is central to all cells, the center’s researchers will investigate its potential in developing therapeutics for diseases as diverse as Parkinson’s disease, hearing loss, traumatic brain injury, glaucoma, antibiotic-resistant infections and certain genetic disorders.
“We are grateful to Sima and Phil Needleman for their extraordinary generosity in supporting cutting-edge medical research,” said Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “These new centers will help harness the collective research excellence already underway in these areas across the School of Medicine and provide new avenues for collaboration and entrepreneurship related to the development of new therapeutics. These two centers are poised to make major contributions to human health, including potentially slowing the effects of aging.”