Allen Institutes

Allen Institutes Allen Institutes
For all his life, Paul was fascinated by machines. Over time, that curiosity drove him to fund research that explored the inner workings of the most amazing machine of all — the human brain. The result was the Allen Institute for Brain Science, founded in 2003. 
In the years that followed, thanks to numerous successes and groundbreaking discoveries, the Allen Institutes continued to expand into other areas of cutting-edge science. Over the years, Paul invested hundreds of millions of dollars to establish different institutes, each of which has become a leader in a specific area of bioscience research. These include the Allen Institute for Cell Science, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, the Allen Institute for Immunology, and the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics.

These aren’t so much separate organizations as they are complementary teams of leaders and scientists committed to the same mission — to pursue Paul’s deeply held belief in the power of science and discovery, alongside a commitment to bringing the best minds together to do what they do best: make things that seem impossible, possible. Today, all the Allen Institutes are housed in a state-of-the-art building on the shores of Lake Union. Each uses a scaled and structured approach that relies on input from the world’s leading scientists and other experts to jumpstart research and move entire sectors forward. In addition, this approach also inspired creation of a new and completely separate organization focused on artificial intelligence, which launched in 2014 (see below) just across Lake Union. 
“​By making the Atlas data accessible in the public domain, and by collaborating with scientific experts in the field, we believe this is an historic opportunity to unite the genome and the brain — to use the data and technology to tackle the challenges of neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric disease.”
— Paul G. Allen
Allen Institute for Brain Science

The first project undertaken by the Allen Institute for Brain Science was ambitious, but wildly successful. It was called the Allen Brain Atlas project and, in just three years, it delivered a map of genome-wide gene expression in the mouse brain. When it was released to the public for scientists everywhere to use, the Atlas motivated Paul and his team of scientists to explore other ways of scaling impact and jumpstarting research. They did that by first expanding the institute’s scope to fill a gap in the area of spinal cord diseases and injuries — it completed the Allen Spinal Cord Atlas in July of 2008. Next, in April 2011, the ground-breaking new Allen Human Brain Atlas map was released — the most comprehensive characterization of the human brain to date that married precise gene expression with vital anatomical information.

“By making the Atlas data accessible in the public domain, and by collaborating with scientific experts in the field, we believe this is an historic opportunity to unite the genome and the brain — to use the data and technology to tackle the challenges of neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative, and psychiatric disease,” Paul said. With several years of impressive accomplishments and scientific breakthroughs under its belt, in 2012, Paul committed an additional funding to expand the Institute’s capabilities and set the course for a 10-year plan that included building a new observatory to record activity of thousands of nerve cells and to obtain a census of all cell types in the brain.

And the revolutionary breakthroughs continued.

In the last several years, the Brain Science team has published terabytes of publicly available data, tools, and resources that are used by researchers around the globe. The scientific studies and knowledge published by the Institute are helping researchers answer important questions about everything from Alzheimer’s and autism to depression and dementia. 
Allen Institute for Cell Science

While most would have paused to reflect on these monumental accomplishments, Paul never did. He still felt there was much more he could do to help advance scientific understanding in other, related areas, and the institute model of bringing exceptional talent together to execute swiftly and make data available to scientists everywhere, held much more promise. So in December of 2014, he redoubled his efforts to explore the inner-workings of human cells by creating the Allen Institute for Cell Science. In the years since, the Cell Science Institute’s library of cell lines, microscopy images, and computational models have been made openly available for others in the scientific community to use. They’ve provided vital insights in kidney disease research and the exploration of heart cell function. Cell biology resources from the Institute have even been used in high school and biology classes, including at Paul’s alma mater, Washington State University. 

Paul’s enduring legacy continues to be seen in dramatic breakthroughs from the Institute. Such was the case in May of 2019 when it announced the first comprehensive view of human stem cell division through the Integrated Mitotic Stem Cell, a data-driven model and visualization tool which provided — for the first time ever — a holistic view of human stem cell division.
The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group

While the Institutes’ research projects continued to make breakthroughs, Paul wanted to do more to also support bioscience and biomedical research being performed by others in the scientific community. And so, in March of 2016, he launched The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to identify and support cutting-edge research and encourage scientists to take risks and produce outcomes that wouldn’t be funded by more conservative grant makers. Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is proud to fund the important work of the Frontiers Group to this day. 

Projects supported by the Frontiers Group include research on Alzheimer’s disease, blood cancer, and human brain evolution, among others. Support is directed through two primary award mechanisms: the Allen Distinguished Investigator awards (typically three-year, $1.5M awards given to one or a small set of researchers), and the Allen Discovery Center awards (larger grants given to launch new research centers). As of 2021, four Allen Discovery Centers have been launched; one each at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Stanford University, Tufts University, and UW Medicine. 
Allen Institute for Immunology

Even after Paul’s death in October of 2018, he continues to have an impact on improving the lives of people around the world. The Allen Institute for Immunology is a perfect example of his enduring philanthropy. It was launched just two months after his passing, in December of 2018.  

As its name suggests, the Institute focuses on the human immune system. The Immunology team is working to make significant improvements in patients’ health and well-being by understanding the dynamic balancing act of our immune system — how it differentiates friend from foe, and what goes wrong when we’re ill. This work is helping researchers and clinicians improve immune health, and how we diagnose, treat, and prevent immune-related diseases. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Immunology team pivoted its research to support global efforts to combat the virus. The team is gaining crucial insights into why some people infected with the virus never even realize they’re sick, while others can have serious symptoms that linger for months or longer.  
The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence team at work. The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence team at work.
“AI still lacks what most 10-year-olds possess: ordinary common sense. We want to jump start that research to achieve major breakthroughs in the field.”
— Paul G. Allen
Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence 

From an early age, Paul knew Artificial Intelligence (AI) held great potential. After reading Isaac Asimov’s novel, I, Robot, he knew machines taking over the world was unlikely, but he believed developing AI with human values was essential to advance the science. “Early in AI research, there was a great deal of focus on common sense, but that work stalled,” he said. “AI still lacks what most 10-year-olds possess: ordinary common sense. We want to jump start that research to achieve major breakthroughs in the field.” 

Inspired by the successful model the other Allen Institutes employed, in 2014 the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (AI2) was founded to conduct high-impact AI research and engineering in service of the common good. Headquartered on the shores of Seattle’s Lake Union, the Institute employs a large team of the world’s best scientific and engineering talent in the field of AI. It attracts individuals of varied interests and backgrounds from around the globe and prides itself on diversity, collaboration, and its results-oriented approach to tackling complex AI challenges.  

In the years since it was founded, AI2 has undertaken several ambitious projects to drive fundamental advances in AI. Its Aristo project is working to design a system that can read, learn, and reason. And its MOSAIC project is focused on defining and building common-sense knowledge and reasoning for AI systems. AI2’s computer vision research group, PRIOR, is driving breakthroughs in several areas including embodied AI through its open-source AI2-THOR platform. And the AllenNLP project is developing state-of-the-art, natural language processing models and making them available to the wider community. AI2 is changing the way researchers engage with literature through its free AI-powered research tool, Semantic Scholar. It’s also helping entrepreneurs create AI-first startups through world-leading AI research, support, and funding in the AI2 Incubator. 

In 2021, AI2 expanded to include a number of teams and conservation technology initiatives incubated at Vulcan including EarthRanger, Skylight, several machine learning projects, and a team of climate scientists. With additional AI integration and the ability to build on cutting-edge developments that are the hallmark of AI2, these projects will continue to advance Paul’s vision of technology solutions by addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems.
These AI accomplishments, like those achieved by experts in the other three institutes, are further validation of Paul’s belief in the positive impact scientists can have on people and the planet when our best minds are equipped, funded, and encouraged to push the boundaries of what’s possible. 
Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics 

In November of 2021, the Allen Institute launched a second neuroscience-focused institute: the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics. This institute builds on two decades of foundational discoveries by the Brain Science division about the brain’s component parts. The Neural Dynamics team studies how these fundamental components work to produce behavior, make decisions, form memories, and process uncertainty in our environments. Knowledge, data, and tools created by the Neural Dynamics institute are widely shared, to help support the development of therapies for various neuropsychiatric diseases and disorders. 
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