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UMass Receives $10M in Funding, Launches Rare Disease Institute

OCTOBER 11, 2017
Mathew Shanley
Thanks to a sizeable gift from the Li Weibo Charitable Foundation in China, the University of Massachusetts Medical School will be opening a new institute dedicated to the study of rare diseases.

Li Weibo, founder of the organization and parent to a child with a rare disease, has agreed to donate $10 million to the medical school. Every penny will be used toward the creation of the Li Weibo Institute for Rare Diseases Research. An additional $750,000 will be donated and used toward annual scholarships for doctoral students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

University officials have already announced that it is one of the largest charitable gifts in school history. The donation amounts to nearly half of the businessman’s total wealth.

"I'm happy to be a part of these contributions to the world and to the community," Li said through Guanping Gao, a professor at the Medical School who acted as a translator. "This is just the beginning, and I will continue my support to UMass Medical School and to support your biomedical research.”

The new addition to the university will dedicate itself to the growth of the already-ongoing research done in the gene therapy space, specifically RNA biology and RNAi technology. It will house the school’s existing faculty, who currently work the in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cystic fibrosis, Friedrich’s ataxia, Huntington’s disease, Pompe disease fields, among others.

At a press event to announce the donation amount, it was noted that the institute will be led by Gao, and molecular, cell and cancer biology professor Michael Green.

This donation comes just one week removed from the school’s acceptance of a $2 million gift – the largest ever from a UMass alum – for ALS and neuroscience research from former mechanical engineering major Diane Riccio, PhD, and her husband Dan. The Riccio family previously donated $1 million to the same cause in 2014.

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