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Chinese businessman bankrolls US brain research

By Liu Jing | | Updated: 2016-12-08 16:13

Chinese businessman bankrolls US brain research

Chen Tianqiao, Chairman and CEO of Shanda Group [Photo/IC]

Chen Tianqiao, once ranked the richest man in China, and his wife are donating $115 million to efforts to crack the fundamental principles that underlie brain function.

The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in the United States announced the gift from Chen and his wife Luo Qianqian Chrissy, cofounders of China's Shanda Group.

The money will be used for inter-disciplinary neuroscience research to "deepen understanding of the brain—the most powerful biological and chemical computing machine—and how it works at the most basic level as well as how it fails because of disease or through the aging process," a statement from Caltech said.

The university in Pasadena, California, will establish a neuroscience institute named after the couple. It will house a range of research investigations from deciphering the basic biology of the brain to understanding sensation, perception, cognition, and human behavior, with the goal of making transformational advances that will inform new scientific tools and medical treatments.

Caltech will also contribute funds to build the $200 million state-of-the-art biosciences complex named in honor of the Chens.

Chen and Luo founded Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited in 1999, which later became China's largest games company in 2004. The company has since transformed into a global private investment company.

"Our involvement in the Internet and entertainment industries allowed us to witness the ability for technology advancements to influence human perception, as well as to observe the resultant meaningful effects on human behavior," Chen said.

However, he said there was little understanding about brain processes and he and his wife hoped to change that.

"It can shape groundbreaking industries such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual reality. It also plays a critical role in addressing social issues such as aging and behavioral deficiencies," he said.

"It can even help answer many ultimate questions about life, such as its origin, purpose, and ending."

Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum said the university shared the Chens' vision "of translating insights into the fundamental biology, chemistry, and physics of the brain into a deeper understanding of how human beings perceive and interact with the world, and how technological interventions can improve the human experience".

The couple's gift is the latest donation to elite overseas universities by Chinese philanthropists.

Chinese property power couple Pan Shiyi and Zhang Xin, founders of Soho China, donated $15 million to Harvard in 2014.

In 2010, Zhang Lei, of Hillhouse Capital Group, pledged $8,888,888 to the Yale School of Business, where he graduated. The money was primarily for the construction of a new campus.

Chen's wife Luo said that they have spent two years learning at highly regarded global universities.

Caltech is chosen for its strong reputation as a leading research institution and its "natural alignment" with Shanda's culture, which is focused on creating excellence and discovery.

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