Mellon Foundation: $23 million for child health institute

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Two days after giving Carnegie Mellon University $25 million, the Richard King Mellon Foundation today announced a separate $23 million gift to the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The money will support the creation of a child health research center, to be called the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research. It will be housed inside a new 10-story structure being built in Lawrenceville, part of a 1.5-million-square-foot, $625 million Children's campus scheduled to open in less than two years.

The money will pay for equipment, construction, the hiring of an "internationally recognized scientific director" and five younger scholars.

"We envision this institute as an incubator for research that challenges conventional widsom and leads to paradigm shifts in pediatric medicine," said Dr. David Perlmutter, physician-in-chief and scientific director of the Children's Hospital.

The private money, he said, is necessary at a time when the National Institutes of Health is pulling back its funding around the country (although Children's grants are up by a compounded 20 percent since 2000, to $22.3 million). "The pressures that have evolved from the decline in funds available from the National Institutes of Health could severely affect the career development of pediatric scientists," Dr. Perlmutter said.

Since 2003, NIH grants around the country have fallen by 13 percent, said University of Pittsburgh medical school dean Dr. Art Levine. But Pitt has "weathered the storm," he added, with the university attracting $446.2 millionin NIH grants last year -- a 3.4 percent increase from the year before and good enough for seventh-highest in the country.

Children's President Roger Oxendale said the gift from the Mellon foundation "could change the field of pediatrics." He expects an additional $6 million a year in NIH research funding as a result of the institute and 60-70 new jobs to be created.

The officials who were in Oakland today for the announcement acknowledged that the Mellon gift is one of the largest ever for pediatric research anywhere in the country. University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, in recognizing the Mellon family for its longtime contributions to the area, noted that in the mid 1980s the same foundation provided $10 million toward the creation of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, now a key institution in Pittsburgh's drive to cure cancer.

"Think about what a difference that has made," Mr. Nordenberg said.



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