Another Alumni Donor Bets Big on Brain Research

Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr., founders of the O'Donnell Foundation, are major Texas grantmakers whom I've written about before. The couple has given away some $600 million over the years, with a strong interest in supporting engineering, science, and mathematics in higher education. The O'Donnells have a particular interest in supporting the University of Texas system.


Related: Big Texas Funder Went to UT-Austin, But Shows Her Love for Whole UT System

Well, part of the reason is that Edith attended UT-Austin. But a look at grantmaking reveals that the O'Donnells have spread their money around throughout the UT system. $17 million helped develop an art institute at UT-Dallas. More than $9 million, meanwhile, went to UT-Austin and its Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, supporting student fellowships, instruction and faculty recruitment. As well, each year, they give out an eponymous $25,000 award to an interdiscplinary science nonprofit called the Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas (TAMEST) for the state's top achievers.

Now, a recent $36 million gift by the O'Donnells will establish a new institute for brain research at the UT Southwestern Medical Center. The money will establish the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

It's worth noting that typically, a lot of the O'Donnells gifts go under the radar, and generally don't come with naming rights. The Austin American-Statesman reported a few years ago that O'Donnell had given some $135 million since the 1980s to support high-tech research.

The new brain institute will foster research projects to better understand the “basic molecular workings” of the brain in service of preventing injuries and diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. The institute will be housed inside the Zale Lipshy University Hospital, which will become a "dedicated neuroscience hospital, providing care to patients with Parkinson’s and ALS as well as acute head trauma like concussions." 

It's also worth mentioning what a big draw neuroscience has been on university campuses in recent years. Just last month, I wrote about a $50 million gift to USC for brain research by the venture capitalist (and alumnus) Mark Stevens. 

Related - Why Donors Give Big for Campus Research: A $50 Million Case Study at USC