Combine a philanthropic husband and wife who love neuroscience with world-renowned neuroscience researchers who are also a husband and wife team — the result: a partnership leading to cutting-edge research in how the brain processes human emotions, makes decisions, communicates, learns and remembers.
At the USC Brain and Creativity Institute (BCI) board meeting last month, Dana Dornsife stood up, walked over to her husband, David, and put her hand on his shoulder, and together they pledged $1 million to fund the top priorities for the BCI.
“The powerful, catalytic effect of the Dornsifes’ generosity has been truly amazing,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC College. “Very early on, they identified a cause they believed in, and have been consistent in their support and commitment ever since. As a result, their extreme generosity has touched an incalculable number of students and scholars. They are exemplary members of the Trojan Family, by any measure.”
The institute director is Antonio Damasio, USC College’s David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and professor of psychology and neurology. Hanna Damasio is co-director of the Brain and Creativity Institute, director of the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center, USC College’s Dana Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience and professor of psychology and neurology.
“Dana and David’s continued support of the institute will allow us to complete important new research and launch a collaboration with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute,” said Antonio Damasio. “David and Dana understand that in spite of our existing federal and foundation grants, the costs of cutting-edge research require additional funds to launch new scientific ventures. Their support is invaluable and their leadership is admirable.”
“The pioneering work taking place at the Brain and Creativity Institute will truly distinguish the College in the next few years for both interdisciplinary research and undergraduate and graduate student development,” said David Dornsife, USC trustee, chair of the BCI board, chairman of the board of the Herrick Corp. and Gillig Corp., vice president of the HEDCO Foundation and a 1965 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business.
One of the research projects is focused on non-verbal communication and in particular on social emotions such as compassion. The goal is to understand as deeply as possible the processes of human empathy. In partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, the BCI will connect these studies to the video testimony of Holocaust survivors. The overall goal of these investigations is to better understand human nature, but the results have practical applications in public policy (e.g., education and management of social conflict) and in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous brain disorders.
In yet another project, Hanna Damasio and her colleagues are analyzing the brain structure of fraternal and identical twins. The study, carried out in collaboration with Laura Baker of the Department of Psychology, uses state-of-the-art imaging technologies to unravel the developing brain. Two postdoctoral fellows, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Christine Vidal, are involved in this research.
The Dornsife gift to the BCI continues a long tradition of giving to the neurosciences for the Dornsifes. In 2003, they gave an $8 million lead gift to establish the Dana and David Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center in the College, which opened in 2004. Dedicated to research, the state-of-the-art center houses a 3T magnetic resonance scanner. The center was critical to the College’s successful recruitment of Antonio and Hanna Damasio.
With a $5 million gift, the Dornsifes established the Dana Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience held by Hanna Damasio and the David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience held by Antonio Damasio.
At the ceremony for the endowed chairs in 2006, Hanna Damasio described the relationship between the two couples as “perfect symmetry.”
The Dornsifes’ continuous support demonstrates no words are necessary to know the feeling is mutual.