Three New Initiatives

Tackling AIDS, autism, and transportation

Apr 21, 2009

Researchers from MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard are joining forces in the quest to develop effective vaccines against AIDS and other diseases. The new Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute, established through a $100 million grant from the Phillip T. and Susan M. Ragon Institute Foundation, will bring together scientists, clinicians, and engineers in an interdisciplinary effort to study how the body fights infections and then apply their findings to a wide range of infectious diseases and cancers. An initial focus will be on identifying the effective immune responses in the few HIV-infected people who are able to keep the virus in check without medication. “By providing flexible funding and by connecting science and engineering at MIT and Harvard with the research and clinical resources of MGH, we intend to empower many of the world’s best researchers to focus on what they view as the most promising research,” says Phillip (Terry) Ragon ‘71, founder and CEO of InterSystems, a maker of database software.

In February, President Susan ­Hockfield announced the new Simons Initiative on Autism and the Brain at MIT. Its goals include attracting postdoctoral fellows, enhancing collaboration among existing investigators, and funding pilot projects on innovative approaches for autism research. In the past four years, Jim Simons ‘58 and his wife, Marilyn, have given more than $10 million to MIT in support of this work.

Transportation@MIT, an effort to address the environmental impact of the global demand for transportation, launched in March. Led by Cynthia Barnhart, SM ‘86, PhD ‘88, associate dean for academic affairs for the School of Engineering, the initiative ties together research now under way on new transportation technologies and new strategies for increasing efficiency; a recent survey revealed that at least a quarter of MIT faculty and researchers are already working on transportation-related projects. It will also foster more collaboration among researchers at the School of Engineering, the School of Architecture and Planning, and the Sloan School of Management.