Kevin Lee, Ellison Medical Foundation

As of November, 2013, the Ellison Medical Foundation is no longer pursuing biomedical grantmaking. Please read our article about their sudden announcement here.

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: Biomedical research, age-related disorders, and neurological research

CONTACT: klee@ellisonfoundation.org, 212-577-9255

IP TAKE: Lee likes innovative research projects that often involve a higher-than-average risk factor. Ingenuity is an absolute must in finding funding from him.

PROFILE: The Ellison Medical Foundation, with offices in New York and Mount Airy, Maryland, is putting serious cash into biomedical research with the intention of finding solutions and cures for elderly people affected by age-related disorders. Behind Ellison's efforts is Kevin J. Lee, a biologist and executive director of the Ellison Medical Foundation.

Having completed a PhD in biology, Lee knows that the state of funding for advanced scientific study in the United States is deplorable. Public money for funding research is scarce in the current budget environment, and it's notoriously difficult to find yourself a tenured position at a major research university. Fortunately, the Ellison Foundation is able to assist the nation's would-be scientific researchers so that they do not have to abandon their professional ambitions in favor of other priorities, such as not starving.

The Ellison Foundation spends tens of millions annually to fund scientists engaged in researching age-related diseases and disabilities. Through several grant programs, Ellison funds academic researchers and their projects, with the ultimate goal of improving the livelihoods of elderly people in the United States and around the world.

Why is the issue of elderly health so important? On its website, Ellison explains that it expects the global population of people over the age of 60 to exceed a billion by 2025, presenting the world with unprecedented health and economic challenges. With the projects it funds, Ellison seeks to meet the challenges that arise from a growing elderly population.

Kevin Lee is well-qualified to lead Ellison in its quest to solve the mysteries of the aging human brain and body — and not just because he himself was once an impoverished doctoral student. Before becoming Ellison's executive director in the fall of 2012, Lee served as its deputy for five years. Prior to taking the reins at Ellison, he was a scientific researcher himself, first in academia and then for a biotechnology startup he created. His pre-Ellison work, not unlike the work he does today, was related to the human brain, human genetics, and how these systems in our bodies receive information and control behavior. Lee also has a background in do-goodism; he served on the scientific review board for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative in New York.

Lee wants Ellison's work to be innovative, and that focus shows in the kinds of projects the organization seeks to fund. For its "Senior Scholar" awards, which fund scientific research projects for $150,000 over four years, Ellison states on its website that it "particularly aims to stimulate new research that has rigorous scientific foundations but is not funded adequately, either because of its perceived novelty, its high risk, or because it is from an area where traditional research interests absorb most funding." Indeed, in 2012 Ellison did fund some innovative — if highly technical-sounding to a layperson — projects through the Senior Scholar program.

In a director's statement, Lee spells out more explicitly the motivations behind Ellison's funding choices:

... In the past two or three decades, while there has been explosive growth in the biological sciences, the support for biomedical research has become risk-averse. Funding agencies are increasingly focused on the application of basic scientific knowledge — and prefer to fund the known, rather than the unknown. There is no question that translating laboratory progress into effective medical treatments is extremely important, and patient health depends on safe, proven, reliable methods. At the same time, the next generation of scientific breakthroughs will never see the light of day if we are unable to provide scientists with the freedom, flexibility, and resources to take risks.

If you are a risk-taking researcher interested in how the Ellison Medical Foundation can help, you can find more information here

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