What Makes Sergey Brin's Attack on Parkinson's so Personal?

In 1979, Sergey Brin's family emigrated from Russia to the United States (read Sergey Brin's IP profile). His father became a professor at the University of Maryland, and his mother Eugenia, a NASA computer scientist. Sergey grew up to become the cofounder of Google in 1998 with friend and dorm mate Larry Page. With all the family's successes, not to mention their escape from Jewish persecution in Cold War Russia, no amount of success or money could help the family escape the onset of Eugenia's Parkinson's symptoms at the age  of 49…or could it?

It was 1997 when Eugenia began showing symptoms of Parkinson's, it was a year before Sergey was to be catapulted into the annals of American history. A decade later, Brin was a bona fide billionaire and decided to undergo genetic testing to discover if he too had the Parkinson's gene mutation known as LRRK2. He did. Sergey had been donating to Parkinson's causes since 2005, predominately the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. In one year alone, Brin donated $61.9 million to Fox's foundation alone.

Once Brin discovered he carried the mutant gene, he revved up his giving and funneled $132 million toward the Parkinson's research. Throwing money around and telling other people to "make do" isn't all Brin is doing.

Sergey is a heavy contributor to his biotech analyst/biologist wife's company, 23andMe. The company studies personal genomics and biotechnology and is named after the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a human cell. 23andMe has developed and marketed a personal human genome test kit available for anyone who would like to explore his or her own genes. The cost of the kit a mere $99. The company focuses heavily on Parkinson's research.

The genius part of Mrs. Google's company is that the genes recorded in 23andMe's database, Sergey's included, are available and accessible for researchers and scientists around the globe. Worldwide access to information — that sounds familiar doesn't it? Hopefully the research — which, as many Big Pharma companies are cutting their brain disease research funds, could not have come at a better time — has as much success as Google.

Update

on 2012-09-05 18:38 by Jack Grauer

Why did Herb Albert get into philanthropy? To make amends for the damage he did to the American art world during his career as an abstract expressionist painter (Punch line pictured below).

No, but seriously folks, trumpet extraordinaire and "A" of A&M Records Herb Alpert began a foundation during the 1980's with the intention of supporting arts-related schools and musicians involved with the jazz scene. The foundation espouses the philosophy that the best way to keep trouble-prone kids on the right path is to get them involved with a community by any means necessary. They fund programs that remove obstructions preventing the "most at-risk institutionalized teens from the foster care and juvenile justice systems" from getting involved with the arts.

Generally Alpert's foundation gives grants in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $1.5 million to programs that place a strong emphasis on providing creative opportunities for students. In 2005, they kicked $1.5 million to a district called Lawndale, located in Santa Monica, California, to set up what the press release termed a "sequential" art education program for students that spans five years. The grant also supports professional training for teachers to help them integrate arts-related activities in other subjects. The grant also helped to develop a partnership between the Lawndale school district and P.S. Arts: a program that gives practicing artists a chance to teach in primary schools.

UCLA opened the Herbert Albert School of Music with the help of $10 million from the Alpert foundation in 2007. Like the program at Lawndale, UCLA's music program places a lot of emphasis on de-isolating arts teaching from other subjects in favor of a "holistic approach to training students," according to Timothy Rice, the program's inaugural director.

When the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) shut its doors in April of 2010, a member from their board of directors said anything short of divine intervention couldn't change the fact that "the reality is bleak" for the school. The Herb Alpert Foundation showed up on cue with a $500,000 Christmas miracle along with several other donors.  In terms of geography, the money to save HSA was a fluke. Otherwise The Alpert Foundation circulates money almost exclusively in and around LA proper.

If the investments discussed above convey anything about The Alpert Foundation's values, they are primarily interested in programs and initiatives that "apply" arts to other types of teaching, and favor an interdisciplinary pedagogy.