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Sci-Tech

Facebook founder Zuckerberg to donate $3 billion to eradicate disease

Mark and Priscilla Zuckerberg are committing $3 billion (2.67 billion euros) to set up a Biohub research center aimed at eradicating all disease by the end of the century. The center will focus on basic research.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, have set out their goal to "cure, prevent or manage all disease within our children's lifetime," before the end of the century.

With their year-old daughter Max, and their dog Beast, present during an interview at their Palo Alto home in California, the couple explained the motive for the project: "I've been with families where we've hit the limit of what's possible through medicine and science," Chan said. "I've had to tell families devastating diagnoses of leukemia, or that we just weren't able to resuscitate their child."

"We spend 50 times more on health care treating people who are sick than we spend on science research [to cure] diseases so that people don't get sick in the first place," Zuckerberg said.

Biohub

Their plan was formally announced at an event attended by business and political leaders including former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom.

Mark Zuckerberg meeting Pope Francis in August.

Mark Zuckerberg meeting Pope Francis in August.

The project includes setting up a bioscience research center, called the Biohub. Researchers are to develop a chip to diagnose diseases, ways to monitor the bloodstream continuously and map cell types in the body.

There will be projects to create a Cell Atlas, a map of cells controlling the body's major organs, and the Infectious Disease Initiative to develop new tools, tests, vaccines and strategies for fighting diseases such as HIV, Ebola and Zika.

University of California, San Francisco professor Joseph DeRisi and Stanford University professor Stephen Quake will lead the Biohub center which also aims to create new research tools, from software to hardware and still undiscovered techniques.

The hope is for scientific breakthroughs similar to those created by the invention of the microscope and DNA sequencing in the past.

Shared knowledge

Rockefeller University neuroscientist Dr. Cori Bargmann will lead all the couple's science initiatives and ensure the research, tools and material which comes from Biohub is shared. The center will work with a network of up to 15 laboratories worldwide and be "available to every scientist, everywhere," Bargmann said.

Zuckerberg and Chan have committed to donating 99 percent of their wealth, valued at more than $45 billion worth of Facebook shares, which the couple is transferring to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative to fund humanitarian projects.

They said they had spent two years speaking to scientists and experts to draw up their plan. Zuckerberg said: "this isn't something where we just read a book and decided we're going to do."

Biohub will run as an independent research center at the University of California, San Francisco in collaboration with UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

jm/msh (Reuters, AP)

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