Smith Family Foundation: The Impact of Pinnacle Program Project Awards
Forty years ago, business entrepreneur, Richard "Dick" Smith and his wife, Susan Smith, began a family foundation that would ultimately impact the lives of millions of people who struggle with illness, poverty and poor education. Still changing lives for the better, today the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Family Foundation has embraced the American Diabetes Association’s Research Foundation as one of its preferred partners.
Remarkably, the Smith Family Foundation has generously donated $4.1 million to the Association, making the Smiths one of the Research Foundation’s most philanthropic families. "One of the missions of the Smith Family Foundation is to support the community by combating specific diseases," says Mr. Smith, a native of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. "We specifically reached out to the Association, because diabetes affects so many people. It is one of the biggest health care problems this country has ever seen."
Mr. Smith has type 2 diabetes and passionately believes in the importance of funding research that will improve the lives of the other 24 million individuals who have this illness. "We believe that diabetes is a genetic disease, therefore, we feel collaborative research has the best chance of discovering what is needed to develop therapeutic targets," asserts Mr. Smith.
Therefore, the Smith Family Foundation partnered with the Research Foundation seven years ago to create the first ever "Pinnacle Program Project Award," which was designed to facilitate collaborations amongst research investigators in a particular area of research.
Due to the success of the first Smith Family Foundation Pinnacle Program Project Award, which focused on the connections between type 2 diabetes and obesity, the Association and the Smith Foundation approved a second and third iteration of this unique project. Consequently, the Smith Foundation currently funds the breakthrough work of Vamsi Mootha, MD, of the Broad Institute, and Evan Rosen, MD, PhD, of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, both of whom are in the Boston area and part of the Harvard system.
Drs. Mootha and Rosen are leading projects meant to develop new type 2 therapies that target recently-identified diabetes-related genes. "Dr. Mootha’s thrust of his study, in particular," says Mr. Smith, "is to isolate a few of the important genes associated with diabetes and establish targets for therapeutics."
Although diabetes is a controllable disease, the Smith Family Foundation stresses that research is crucial to mitigate the harmful effects of diabetes. The best way to achieve long-term scientific results, they believe, is through well funded collaborative projects like the Pinnacle Program Projects and the involvement of talented researchers, like Rosen and Mootha.
As the Smith Family Foundation continues to support high-impact science through joint projects, Mr. Smith supports the principle that the Research Foundation should begin focusing on funding new to the field of diabetes research investigators.
"We must motivate individuals who are in the field of diabetes research to stay and encourage those outside the field to enter," says Mr. Smith. "Much of science is serendipitous—young investigators in the field must collaborate with each other in order to make great things happen," he continues.
"Our mutual goal at the Smith Foundation and the Research Foundation will be to support and encourage these new investigators," Smith says. "Diabetes is a problem that is not going away soon."