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Microsoft Co-Founder Gives $100 Million To Research Roots Of Cancer

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen has a big interest in cells - so much so he's donating $100 million to greater research institute in Seattle to study how cells work. NPR's Jon Hamilton reports one goal of the Allen Institute for Cell Science is to explain why cells malfunction in diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Rick Horwitz, the executive director of the new institute, says there is a compelling reason to learn more about the inner workings of cells.

RICK HORWITZ: Cells are the basis of disease. So if something goes wrong with the behavior of the cell, and that's what we don't know enough about.

HAMILTON: Of course, researchers have been studying cells for centuries. And Horwitz says many labs have already done a good job examining single components of a cell.

HORWITZ: But no one in one lab could actually study all the components of the cell. And the institute is centered around trying to bridge that barrier.

HAMILTON: Horwitz says new technology is making it possible to gather a huge amount of information about cells while they are working. He says the institute plans to offer that information in a visual format that will be easy for scientists to use.

HORWITZ: What we're going to do is Google Maps. And what we want to do is to create images where people can zoom in and zoom out.

HAMILTON: These maps will include information about the anatomy and function of a cell. They will also show how processes inside the cell can change and become abnormal over time. It's those changes that are the hallmarks of cancer, Alzheimer's and many other diseases. And Horwitz says everything created at the institute will be publicly available. That was the approach the Allen Institute for Brain Science adopted in 2003 when it was created. And it has helped make that institute an international powerhouse in research. Jon Hamilton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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