Tobias Bonhoeffer appointed scientific advisor of Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Max Planck Director will help identify new groundbreaking research areas for a healthy human life

September 22, 2016

In December 2015, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced their plan to put 99% percent of their Facebook shares, worth about 45 billion dollars, into a new project focusing on the improvement of human potential and the promotion of equality. After an initial focus on education, the initiative has now announced its second focal point: the promotion of basic science research with the goal of curing, preventing or managing all disease by the end of this century. This new project, led by neuroscientist Cori Bargmann, was announced in San Francisco yesterday. In addition to the President, the two founders also introduced the scientists who will help build this initiative in the future. The panel of experts also includes one German researcher: Tobias Bonhoeffer, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried near Munich.

Shortly after the birth of their daughter Maxima Chan Zuckerberg, the couple set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), stating they wished to see their daughter grow up in a world in which it was possible to cure diseases, personalize learning, and connect people. At a press conference on the Mission Bay campus of the University of California in San Francisco yesterday, Chan and Zuckerberg announced the second cornerstone of the initiative: 'Chan Zuckerberg Science'.

Over the past few months, the paediatrician Chan and Facebook founder Zuckerberg had met with numerous scientists, engineers, and other experts. This convinced them of the importance to invest into basic research to achieve much needed scientific progress essential for combating diseases. As a result, they decided to set up "Chan Zuckerberg Science (CZS)". The work of the initiative will have three core elements: More and better cooperation of scientists and engineers, the development of new methods and technologies, and educating the general public about the benefits of scientific discovery with the result of a much more general support and willingness to donate to science.

The only European member of the Scientific Advisory Board is Max Planck Director Tobias Bonhoeffer from Martinsried. "I am truly thrilled to be part of this exciting initiative. I am convinced that CZS can provide a powerful new impetus for imaginative and forward-looking science in the biomedical arena", was his first reaction. "It is a great pleasure and honor for me to have been appointed as advisor," said Bonhoeffer, who had been in contact with Chan and Zuckerberg since their visit to Berlin earlier this year. Being involved in major science policy decisions is however nothing new for the 56-year-old neurobiologist Tobias Bonhoeffer. In his capacity as chairman of the Biology and Medicine Section of the Max Planck Society (2008 - 2011) and as a Governor of the Wellcome Trust, one of the world's largest charities, he has provided guidance and expertise to many decision-making bodies.

Cori Bargmann, Professor at Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is the new President of Chan Zuckerberg Science. The world-renowned neuroscientists and geneticist, is well-known, among other things, for serving as co-chair of the BRAIN initiative of US President Barack Obama. For her new task, she will have a seven-member advisory body at her side, whose names read like a 'Who's Who' of science visionaries: David Haussler (Professor at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Art Levinson (Chairman of Apple), Shirley Tilghman (former President of Princeton University), Bob Tjian (former President of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), Harold Varmus (Nobel laureate and former director of the National Institute of Health, NIH) and Huda Zoghbi (Professor at Baylor College of Medicine) – and Tobias Bonhoeffer (Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology.

According to the announcement, at least three billion dollars will be invested into CZS for the next ten years. The founders are however aware that science needs patience and that it will take time to create new knowledge and technology and even longer for a real impact on existing diseases to be tangible. As the first investment into basic research, the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub has now been established - an independent research centre that will work in close partnership with Stanford University, the Universities of California San Francisco and Berkeley. The Chan Zuckerberg BioHub is jointly headed by Joseph DeRisi, Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco, and Stephen Quake, Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at Stanford University.

Biographical information:

Tobias Bonhoeffer studied physics at the University of Tübingen. He received his doctorate in 1988 from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen. After conducting research at Rockefeller University in New York and at the MPI for Brain Research in Frankfurt, he took up the position of leader of an independent research group at the MPI of Psychiatry in 1993. Since 1998, Tobias Bonhoeffer has been a Director at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology. His department "Synapses - Circuits - Plasticity" examines what happens in the brain when it learns or forgets something.

Further information:

The initiative:

With the birth of their daughter Maxima Chan Zuckerberg, Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg on 1 December 2015 announced the Foundation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to promote human potential and equality. Further information:


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