Li Weibo Charitable Foundation Gives UMass $10M for Rare Disease Institute

Inês Martins, PhD avatar

by Inês Martins, PhD |

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Thanks to a $10 million endowment from the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation in China, the University of Massachusetts Medical School will soon be able to launch a new institute dedicated to the study of rare diseases such as Cushing’s disease.

Li Weibo, the organization’s founder and the parent of a child with a rare disease, offered the endowment to create the Li Weibo (李伟波) Institute for Rare Diseases Research. An additional $750,000 also will be provided to support annual scholarships for doctoral students at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

This is one of the most generous donations UMass has received to date. Li Weibo says he plans on donating nearly half of his wealth through his foundation.

According to Rare Disease Report, the new institute will conduct research in gene therapy, specifically in ribonucleic acid (RNA) biology and RNA interference (RNAi) technology. The Li Weibo Institute will work on Cushing’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Friedreich’s ataxia (FA), and others.

This is the second large donation UMass has received in a week. Former mechanical engineering major Diane Riccio, PhD, and her husband Dan gave $2 million to the university to support research of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neuroscience.

“I’m happy to be a part of these contributions to the world and to the community,” Li Weibo said with the help of Guangping Gao, a professor at the medical school who will co-lead the institute and who served as a translator. “This is just the beginning, and I will continue my support to UMass Medical School and to support your biomedical research.”

Gao is a professor of microbiology and physiological systems and director of the Horae Gene Therapy Center & Vector Core at UMass Medical School. He will co-lead the new center with Michael Green, MD, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, chair, and professor of molecular, cell and cancer biology.

Li Weibo said he established the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation in 2013 to support different causes including biomedical research and education.

“In the global scientific research field, quantum leaps in biomedical and human health research will be made in the near future,” Li Weibo said in a UMass news story. “My goal is to participate in and promote biomedical research.”

Cushing’s disease is defined as a “rare disease” by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), meaning it impacts fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.