Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute

Last updated
Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute
Founder Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo
Type Non-profit institute
Legal statusActive
PurposeSupporting fundamental brain research and development
Headquarters Menlo Park, California
United States, China
MethodsEndowments and educational programs
Fields Neuroscience
Executive director
David Tan [1]
AffiliationsZhou Liangfu Foundation, Caltech, Huashan Hospital, Shanghai Mental Health Center
Endowment (2016)$1 billion
Website cheninstitute.org

The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute (also referred to as the Chen Institute or TCCI) is a non-profit institute founded by husband and wife Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo with the aim of supporting study into the human brain. In 2016 the couple committed US$1 billion to support the institute’s work, [2] which focuses on research in three core areas – brain discovery, brain treatment and brain development. Towards that end, the institute supports interdisciplinary research concerning neuroscience, particularly research on brain mechanics, perception, [3] and the impact of perception on behavior and well-being. [4]

Human brain Main organ of the human nervous system

The human brain is the central organ of the human nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up the central nervous system. The brain consists of the cerebrum, the brainstem and the cerebellum. It controls most of the activities of the body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from the sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of the body. The brain is contained in, and protected by, the skull bones of the head.

Neuroscience scientific study of the nervous system

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is a multidisciplinary branch of biology that combines physiology, anatomy, molecular biology, developmental biology, cytology, mathematical modeling and psychology to understand the fundamental and emergent properties of neurons and neural circuits. The understanding of the biological basis of learning, memory, behavior, perception, and consciousness has been described by Eric Kandel as the "ultimate challenge" of the biological sciences.

Perception Organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment

Perception is the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the presented information, or the environment.




The Chen Institute was founded by Chrissy and Tianqiao Chen, both philanthropists known for co-founding the Chinese conglomerate Shanda Group in 1999. [2] [5] They decided to create the Chen Institute to fund various brain-related research initiatives and institutions, [6] citing a project by Caltech scientist David J. Anderson as being particularly inspirational. Upon seeing Richard A Andersen's, who along with David J. Anderson directs part of T&C Chen Institute, mind-machine brain interface help a quadriplegic use thoughts to control a robotic arm on television, [7] they flew from Singapore to Caltech in Pasadena, California to meet Anderson in person. [2] The couple subsequently set aside $1 billion to donate to related efforts [6] on brain-related treatment, [7] as well as research and development. [8] They then spent two years researching possible partners. [9]

China Country in East Asia, most populous country in the world

China, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country in East Asia and the world's most populous country, with a population of around 1.428 billion in 2017. Covering approximately 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 sq mi), it is the third or fourth largest country by total area. Governed by the Communist Party of China, the state exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities, and the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

David J. Anderson is an American neurobiologist. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. His lab is located at the California Institute of Technology, where he currently holds the position of Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology, TianQiao and Chrissy Chen Leadership Chair and Director, TianQiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience. Anderson is a founding adviser of the Allen Institute for Brain Research, a non-profit research institute funded by the late Paul G. Allen, and spearheaded the Institute's early effort to generate a comprehensive map of bean expression in the mouse brain.

Singapore Republic in Southeast Asia

Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island city-state in Southeast Asia. The country is situated one degree north of the equator, at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, with Indonesia's Riau Islands to the south and Peninsular Malaysia to the north. Singapore's territory consists of one main island along with 62 other islets. Since independence, extensive land reclamation has increased its total size by 23%.

In March 2017, the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute announced a plan to annually donate around $100 million each year. With the goal of "[passing] the ball to whoever is closest to the goal," new proposals from universities would be gauged for at least a year each, and after that point, money would be donated to scientists directly. [10]

Caltech institute

In its first donation, [10] [11] on December 8, 2016 it was announced that the Chen Institute was donating $115 million to fund the formation of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience at Caltech. [8] The Chens stated that they selected Caltech as the first recipient because of the school's entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary approach to the field. [10] The $115 million Caltech donation resulted in some controversy in Chinese academia, with arguments made that the donations would have been more beneficial to a Chinese university. [12] Other academics defended the donation on the grounds that Chinese universities were often less transparent, [13] [14] noting that the Chens had previously withheld gifts to Chinese institutions when they refused to provide usage reports. [8]

The funds were set aside to establish the new institute's building and provide Caltech with continuous resources for neuroscience research, with direction of that research to be decided by the university. [15] It was announced that the upcoming building would serve as the administrative center for the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience, [16] and house five interdisciplinary research centers [9] which together formed "the core of the Chen Institute." [2] The university explained that the research complex [17] would combine "biology, engineering, chemistry, physics, computer science and the social sciences to tackle brain function in an integrated, comprehensive way." [2]

In August 2017, it was announced that David J. Anderson would serve as director of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience. Also that month, plans for the new Caltech building were heard by the design commission of Pasadena. [9] The groundbreaking of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building took place in December 2017. With construction to begin in January 2018, the opening was scheduled for the fall of 2020. [16]

Shanghai institute

In November 2017, the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute announced that $80 million would fund The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Brain Disease (Shanghai). The nonprofit brain disease institute was formed as a partnership with Huashan Hospital in Shanghai, which in turn is affiliated with Fudan University, [5] and Zhou Liangfu Foundation. [18] The institute announced a focus on international collaboration and brain disease research, [19] with plans to study "brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression and other brain ailments." [5]

In June 2018, the institute announced that it was partnering with the Shanghai Mental Health Center to fund the study of mental illness. [20]

Areas of focus and mission

The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute [15] [18] is interested in three core areas: brain discovery, brain treatment, and brain development. [3] In particular, the institute aims to support fundamental brain research [12] with a focus on "understanding the sensation-perception mechanisms and related systems of memory, attention, learning and expectations." [3] The institute's stated goal is to fund universities and institutions in forms such as endowed institutes, [9] grants for researchers, [10] professorships, or "topic-specific programs" for scientists. [3]

Co-founder Tianqiao Chen has explained that "the key of [the institute's] philanthropy vision" is furthering understanding of perception, arguing that such research would help people master negative emotions. [15] According to Chen, “for thousands of years, we improved our happiness through changing the physical world. We now have to solve this problem by exploring inward. [4]

Programs and institutions

Research and recognition

Since its inception, researchers at the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute at Caltech have published work on topics such as aiding paralyzed patients feel sensation, [21] the neural processes associated with fear, [22] deciphering how the brain manages thirst, [23] the mechanisms behind memory recollection, [24] the neural codes for body movements, and others. [25]

A number of Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute researchers have received awards for their work. Institute researchers at Huashan Hospital, for example, received two National Science and Technology Awards in 2017 for their work on “Basic and Clinical Innovation Methods for Cerebral Fluid Through Surgery.” [26]


The institute commissioned the documentary Minds Wide Open, which aired on the Discovery Channel [27] in 2018. An hour long, according to Barron's it "builds a case for why scientists need to focus on very basic questions of how the brain works and gives special attention to several young scientists who are on the verge of breakthroughs." [28] The film won Gold Awards in the 2018 Cannes Corporate Media & TV Award film categories of medical, educational, and science and technology. [27]

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Allen Brain Atlas

The Allen Mouse and Human Brain Atlases are projects within the Allen Institute for Brain Science which seek to combine genomics with neuroanatomy by creating gene expression maps for the mouse and human brain. They were initiated in September 2003 with a $100 million donation from Paul G. Allen and the first atlas went public in September 2006. As of May 2012, seven brain atlases have been published: Mouse Brain Atlas, Human Brain Atlas, Developing Mouse Brain Atlas, Developing Human Brain Atlas, Mouse Connectivity Atlas, Non-Human Primate Atlas, and Mouse Spinal Cord Atlas. There are also three related projects with data banks: Glioblastoma, Mouse Diversity, and Sleep. It is the hope of the Allen Institute that their findings will help advance various fields of science, especially those surrounding the understanding of neurobiological diseases. The atlases are free and available for public use online.

Chinese Academy of Sciences academy of sciences

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, is a Chinese research institute. It has historical origins in the Academia Sinica during the Republican era and formerly also known by that name, is the national academy for the natural sciences of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Collectively known as the "Two Academies (两院)" along with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, it functions as the national scientific think tank and academic governing body, providing advisory and appraisal services on issues stemming from the national economy, social development, and science and technology progress. It is headquartered in Xicheng District, Beijing, with branch institutes all over mainland China. It has also created hundreds of commercial enterprises, Lenovo being one of the most famous.

Atlantic Philanthropies

The Atlantic Philanthropies (AP) is a private foundation created in 1982 by Irish-American businessman Chuck Feeney. The Atlantic Philanthropies focuses its giving on health, social, and politically liberal public policy causes in Australia, Bermuda, Ireland, South Africa, the United States and Vietnam. It is among the largest foreign charitable donors in each of the countries in which it operates, and is the single largest funder of programs that encourage the civic engagement of older people and of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. With the single largest advocacy grant ever made by a foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies committed $27 million to win passage of the Affordable Care Act in the United States. About half of the Atlantic Philanthropies' grants have been made in donations that allow lobbying.

The Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study brings together researchers from many disciplines to study the phenomenon known as the mind. A unit of George Mason University, the Institute for Advanced Study also serves as a center for doctoral education in neuroscience. Research at the Institute is funded by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

Shanda Group is a privately-owned multinational investment firm. With offices in Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and Menlo Park, the firm invests in public markets, real estate and venture capital, focusing on companies in the fields of healthcare, financial services, media, and technology. The company was established in December 1999 as Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited, an online gaming company known for publishing and operating games such as The World of Legend and Magical Land. By 2004 Shanda was the largest online game company in China, and its listing on the NASDAQ that year was the largest IPO for a Chinese internet company in the United States. Shanda Interactive later diversified and its gaming unit spun off in 2009, raising $1.04 billion in an IPO. Shanda Group was taken private in 2012 by its founders, and by 2017 it had $8 billion in net assets under management.

Neuroinformatics is a research field concerned with the organization of neuroscience data by the application of computational models and analytical tools. These areas of research are important for the integration and analysis of increasingly large-volume, high-dimensional, and fine-grain experimental data. Neuroinformaticians provide computational tools, mathematical models, and create interoperable databases for clinicians and research scientists. Neuroscience is a heterogeneous field, consisting of many and various sub-disciplines. In order for our understanding of the brain to continue to deepen, it is necessary that these sub-disciplines are able to share data and findings in a meaningful way; Neuroinformaticians facilitate this.

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  1. "Our Team", Chen Institute
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "How a mind-controlled robotic arm paved the way for Caltech's new neuroscience institute", Los Angeles Times, Dec 6, 2016
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Focus Vision Cornerstone Partnerships" - Chen Institute
  4. 1 2 "The Mysterious Case of the Missing Internet Billionaire" - Bloomberg - Yoolim Lee - August 15, 2017
  5. 1 2 3 Kerry Dolan, "With A New Gift, Chinese Games Billionaire Takes Step To Treat Brain Diseases", Forbes, Nov 2, 2017
  6. 1 2 "Why Chinese billionaire Tianqiao Chen transitioned from investing in video games to CHS, neuroscience" - Becker's Hospital Review - Alyssa Rage - August 17, 2017
  7. 1 2 "China’s Rising Philanthropy Presents the Next Big Brain Science Donor" - Inside Philanthropy -Tate Williams - December 13, 2016
  8. 1 2 3 "Chinese Donors Step Up Giving to American Universities" - The Chronicle of Higher Education - Mimi Leung - December 21, 2016
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "Design Commission Hears Details of Major New Caltech Research Center" - Pasadena Now - August 7, 2017
  10. 1 2 3 4 Qian Tongxin, "Shanda Group's Chen Tianqiao Reveals Plans for Funding Brain Science Research After Caltech Donation", YiCai Global, May 2, 2017
  11. "Chinese investor in CHS donates $115 million for brain research" - Modern Healthcare - Dave Barkholz - December 7, 2016
  12. 1 2 "Chinese should reflect on billionaire's Caltech donation", Global Times , Dec 12, 2016
  13. "Should Chinese Billionaires Donate Overseas?" - Beijing Review - Chris Surtees - January 5, 2017
  14. "Are Chinese donations to US college unpatriotic?" - China Daily - December 24, 2016
  15. 1 2 3 Jeevan Vasagar, "Chinese donors fund studies into acceptance of death", The Financial Times , Dec 6, 2016
  16. 1 2 "Billionaire-Backed Brain Research Center Breaks Ground at Caltech" - Pasadena Now - Brandon Villalovos - December 6, 2017
  17. "CHS' largest shareholder donates $115M to Caltech for brain research" - Becker's Hospital Review - Ayla Ellison - December 8, 2016
  18. 1 2 3 Kerry Dolan, "TCCI Awards $75.7 Million for Shanghai Brain Disease Institute", Philanthropy News Digest , Nov 4, 2017
  19. "TCCI Establishes the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Brain Disease (Shanghai) in Partnership with Huashan Hospital and Zhou Liangfu Foundation" - Chen Institute - November 2, 2017
  20. "Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute Signs Agreement with Shanghai Mental Health Center" - Chen Institute - June 6, 2018
  21. "Paralyzed Patient Feels Sensation Again" - Caltech - April 10, 2018
  22. "You Don't Think Your Way Out of a Tiger Attack" - Caltech - March 5, 2018
  23. "Hierarchical neural architecture underlying thirst regulation" - Macmillan Publishers Limited - 2018
  24. "New Caltech Research Provides Insight into How the Brain Works to Recall Memories" - Pasadena Now - Lori Dajose - December 19, 2017
  25. "The Neural Codes for Body Movements" - Caltech - July 20, 2017
  26. "TCCI Researchers Win Two National Science & Technology Progress Awards" - Chen Institute - January 9, 2018
  27. 1 2 "Minds Wide Open Documentary Showcases a Hopeful Future for Brain Science" - Chen Institute - 2018
  28. Barron's accessed November 13, 2019