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11 Dec. 1998 - 7 Jan. 1999

Vol. II, No. 17

Feature Article

Whitaker Foundation grants $3.4 million to BUSM for heart imaging

By Eric McHenry

Extending a legacy of support that began more than 40 years ago, the Whitaker Foundation recently conferred a $3.4 million grant upon the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Aram Chobanian, dean of BUSM and provost of the medical campus, says the money will be applied broadly to the needs of a new Cardiovascular Imaging Center. It will finance the creation of physical space to accommodate the center, which is to be housed in the new BioSquare II research facility across the street from BUSM; it will fill that space with state-of-the-art research equipment; and it will enable the recruitment of an expert in cardiovascular imaging.

"The Whitaker Foundation has been and continues to be a vital link in our cardiovascular-disease research efforts," Chobanian says. "I thank the Foundation for more than 40 years of support to our school and to the Whitaker Cardiovascular Institute."

The late philanthropist U. A. Whitaker made his first donation to cardiovascular research at BU in 1957. Since its establishment in 1975, his foundation has been a consistent patron of such research at the University. The Cardiovascular Institute, founded in 1973, was renamed in honor of its benefactor after a generous gift.

"Mr. Whitaker recognized the potential for important cardiovascular research at the Boston University School of Medicine when he started providing it with funding in 1957," says Miles J. Gibbons, Jr., president of the Whitaker Foundation. "The institute has developed into one of the world's top cardiovascular research centers, and we're proud to have the Whitaker name associated with it."

Grants to the institute, Gibbons says, do not come within the usual scope of funding activity for the foundation, whose principal interests are in bioengineering and biomedical engineering research.

"This one is a special grant that's given in recognition of the long-term relationship between Mr. Whitaker and the Cardiovascular Institute," he says. "BU's is the only research program the Whitaker Foundation supports that is specifically designated for cardiovascular research, and that's very much an outgrowth of Mr. Whitaker's long-standing interest in it."

Gibbons adds that the Cardiovascular Imaging Center was elected from several options BU presented to the foundation in its grant proposal. "Given the choice of the laboratories BU was looking to develop," he says, "we selected the imaging laboratory because it was most closely aligned with the biomedical engineering interests of the foundation."

Imaging of heart and vascular cells, for example, entails the use of "special spectroscopic equipment that allows us to visualize cell function and changes in small molecules," Chobanian explains. In this respect, he says, research conducted at the new Imaging Center will be very much in keeping with the foundation's interest in giving medical application to engineering technologies.

"We'll be using what is essentially classical engineering for purposes that are adapted to particular cardiovascular problems," he says.