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$25 million gift from Once Upon a Time Foundation establishes Raynor Cerebellum Project at UT Southwestern to tackle cerebellar dysfunction and disorders

DALLAS – May 12, 2022 – A generous $25 million commitment from the Once Upon a Time Foundation will create the Raynor Cerebellum Project at UT Southwestern Medical Center (RCP-UTSW) to investigate diseases associated with cerebellum dysfunction, with the goal of discovering how to preserve and restore lost brain function. This gift helped UT Southwestern not only achieve, but exceed, the goal for its Campaign for the Brain, a $1 billion initiative aimed at advancing prevention efforts, effective treatments, and cures for brain diseases.

Cerebellar dysfunction typically causes imbalance and disrupts movement control, including abnormalities in gait, coordination, speech, and eye movements. It is increasingly being associated with many neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, and as a contributor to motor, cognitive, and behavioral challenges. The Raynor Cerebellum Project, established through the support of Geoffrey Raynor, founder of the Once Upon a Time Foundation, intends to bring together the world’s top experts in cerebellar research and care to launch a broad range of scientific investigations from basic understanding of related neural circuitry to translational studies with patients aimed at identifying and evaluating potential therapeutic targets.

“Mounting evidence over the past decade has pointed to a role for the cerebellum in cognition and social skills. The bold vision of the Foundation’s Raynor Cerebellum Project will allow UT Southwestern to bring together the needed expertise, collaboration, and technological prowess to advance scientific understanding and clinical insight with the goal of developing effective therapies for cerebellar disease and ultimately preventing cerebellar dysfunction in both children and adults,” said Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern.

The Raynor Cerebellum Project will leverage investments made in UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute through its Campaign for the Brain, with key infrastructure now in place to accelerate progress in understanding and developing novel treatments for cerebellar disorders. “Rapid advances in several technologies, including brain imaging, genetics, and laboratory techniques enabling precise mapping and manipulation of connected brain regions, are powering this new understanding of the cerebellum and its functions and hold great promise for future discoveries critical for better therapeutics,” said William Dauer, M.D., inaugural Director of the O’Donnell Brain Institute, and Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience. “There has never been a more promising time for this kind of ambitious effort.”

The Fort-Worth based Once Upon a Time Foundation has been a philanthropic partner to UT Southwestern for nearly 20 years, investing in some of the most important work underway at the Medical Center, ranging from emergency medicine to neurology research to precision cancer treatments. Previously the Foundation has given more than $14.1 million to UT Southwestern. The addition of this $25 million grant will bring the Foundation’s total giving to UT Southwestern to almost $40 million.

“My father was a neurosurgeon and I was a philosophy major in college. I have always been fascinated with unraveling the mysteries of the brain. We are thrilled to substantially increase our giving to create the Raynor Cerebellum Project – an effort with the magnitude to change the landscape of neurological medicine forever,” Mr. Raynor said. “Existing cerebellum research has suffered from a piecemeal approach, which has necessitated a need for focus and a streamlined path to treatments for those suffering from cerebellar dysfunction. The Raynor Cerebellum Project will be a collaboration of the best minds with a Manhattan Project-like focused, results-oriented approach. Our goal is to find the shortest path to improving the lives of patients suffering from cerebellar disorders. Timing is critical as these patients cannot wait.”

To accomplish this, the RCP-UTSW will:

  • Recruit a major leader in cerebellar research to serve as the Scientific Director of the RCP-UTSW and to build an expert team at UT Southwestern.
  • Seek out leading experts in cerebellar function and dysfunction from around the world.
  • Convene a Cerebellum Summit at UT Southwestern and subsequently host annual follow-up summits and symposia on cerebellar research to critically evaluate progress and update research goals to reflect experimental results.
  • Prepare a comprehensive plan for solving cerebellar dysfunction, including major goals, key experts, and technologies required to carry out the vision.
  • Launch research efforts at UT Southwestern and external sites with $8 million of the $25 million earmarked for research grants to be directed by a committee comprised of Foundation, UTSW, and outside experts all in support of the RCP-UTSW primary mission.

“UT Southwestern is well positioned to deliver on this complex priority – aligning internal strengths in medication-based methods, experiential programs, neuromodulation, genetics, bioinformatics, and biomedical engineering with external collaborations to extend the reach of these investigations,” said Dr. Podolsky. “Improving our understanding of cerebellar function, and importantly our ability to repair and prevent dysfunction, represents a pioneering effort in this understudied arena that holds great promise for improving the lives of patients and families affected by cerebellar dysfunction.”

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Dauer holds the Lois C.A. and Darwin E. Smith Distinguished Chair in Neurological Mobility Research.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.