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Eck gives $20 million to disease center

Becky Hogan | Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Notre Dame alumnus Frank Eck has given the University a $20 million gift to support the Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (CGHID), which will be renamed the Eck Family Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases.

“This endowment is going to put the Center on a much more formal footing. It… will allow for more formal planning which we haven’t had in the past,” said Fred Collins, director of the CGHID.

According to its Web site, the CGHID brings together faculty and students from several different colleges and departments at Notre Dame, focusing its research and teaching on human pathogens, diseases caused by these organisms and the impact of these diseases on human society. Members of the CGHID are concerned with a broad range of research topics, from biomedical science to human rights issues, such as the impact of infectious diseases in developing countries.

Eck’s gift will give the Center “a number of opportunities we haven’t had before. While there are a number of faculty who are affiliated with the Center, all of their funding is for very specific research programs,” Collins said. “One of the things we have not had is the ability to generate money used for general educational activities.”

Collins said the Center plans to use the money, in part, to send graduate and undergraduate students overseas to participate in research projects.

“We want to give students the opportunity to do research and work in disease-endemic field settings,” Collins said.

Additionally, Collins said the gift will help cover some administrative costs, centralize all the related research currently underway at Notre Dame and enable the Center to invite researchers to give seminars.

Assistant director for the Center, Jeff Schorey, said the gift will also allow the Center to give special attention to the areas of genomics and bioinformatics, which are the studies of chromosomes and computer science in biology, respectively.

“This [gift] will go a long way in providing … resources for people who have a component of genomics and bioinformatics in their research. We are getting thousands of organisms sequenced, and understanding pathogens and what they code for is going to be key in understanding how disease is manifested,” Schorey said.

According to Schorey, the money donated will allow the CGHID to focus on long-term research efforts.

“The problem with granting agencies is that you have to get results and papers published so you can [obtain] grants. With the endowment we will be able to circumvent this process,” Schorey said.

Collins said the Center has been conducting research on infectious and tropical diseases for the past 40 years but that the University has only recently taken interest in the CGHID.

“There has a been a 40-plus year tradition of research on this campus. The actual name of these activities has changed over time, but there has been a long-term continuum in spite of the name changes.”

Collins said that the late biologist George Craig Jr. and the late Paul Weinstein, who was a professor of biological sciences at the University, were first to spearhead research efforts in these fields at Notre Dame.

“Those two people were really instrumental in putting together a very active program of research and training in the areas of tropical disease and global health at Notre Dame,” he said.

Collins and Schorey emphasized that the study of infectious and tropical diseases continues to be extremely important today – especially in developing nations where five million people die from HIV, malaria and tuberculosis each year.

“Only about one percent of deaths in the U.S. are caused by infectious diseases, but more than 45 percent of deaths that occur in underdeveloped countries in the world are caused by infectious disease that are preventable or curable in the U.S.,” Collins said.

He said the Center plans to foster the stuffy of global health and diseases from different perspectives and disciplines.

“Part of what we will try to do is reach out and make it clear to the larger community the importance of research on infectious and tropical disease.”

Eck graduated from Notre Dame in 1944 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He served as chairman of Advanced Drainage Systems (ADS) of Columbus, Ohio, and also served on the College of Engineering Advisory Board from 1984 until his death last December.

His contributions to the University total over $55 million. In 2005, Eck contributed $21 million to the University for the construction of the Eck Hall of Law.

Eck had previously underwritten the construction of the Eck Center in 1999, the Frank Eck Baseball Stadium in 1994 and the Eck Tennis Pavilion in 1987. He also contributed a library collection in chemical engineering.