Pels Family Center for Biochemistry and Structural Biology receives new $10 million grant

A new $10 million endowment gift made by the Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust will provide ongoing support for the university’s chemical and structural biologists through the Pels Family Center for Biochemistry and Structural Biology. Mr. Pels, who was a Rockefeller Trustee for more than two decades, established the interdisciplinary research center with a grant in 1998 to recruit early-career scientists and provide essential technologies for chemical and structural biology. Tarun Kapoor, who heads the Laboratory of Chemistry and Cell Biology, is the center’s director.

“We are extraordinarily honored and grateful to Don’s wife, Wendy Keys, and his daughter Valerie Pels for choosing to continue Don’s philanthropic legacy at Rockefeller,” says Dr. Kapoor. “This gift will ensure the continued success of the Pels Center’s innovators, while enabling us to expand Rockefeller’s contributions in the field of chemical and structural biology.”

Mr. Pels, who died in 2014, previously donated more than $11 million to Rockefeller. In addition to the Pels Center, his gifts created the Pels Family Professorship, which Dr. Kapoor holds, and supported other initiatives at the university. Mr. Pels, who was a media executive and a pioneer in the mobile telecommunications industry, also served on the board of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and the New York Philharmonic. He and Ms. Keys were early supporters of the High Line park on the Lower West Side of Manhattan.

Designed to give Rockefeller’s chemical and structural biologists the opportunity to collaborate and share resources, the Pels Center hosts a lecture series on campus and a biennial retreat for its 18 member laboratories. The group brings together scientists with various expertise and research interests—including biochemist C. David Allis, whose lab studies epigenetics and chromatin biology; chemical biologist Sean F. Brady, who is focused on the discovery of small molecules from microbial sources; and structural biologist Jue Chen, whose lab investigates transporter proteins in the cell membrane. Research in the center’s labs is focused on using complementary tools from chemistry, physics, and computational sciences to lay a foundation for the treatment of a wide range of conditions, including neurological and psychiatric diseases, developmental disorders, cancer, and infectious diseases.

Along with faculty recruitment and the acquisition of new technologies, the endowment gift will be used to support pilot grants, postdoctoral and graduate fellowships, a visiting scholar fund, and other initiatives to enhance the center.

“This generous gift couldn’t have come at a better time,” says President Richard P. Lifton. “These funds will help further the important research of Rockefeller labs devoted to chemical and structural biology that are at the forefront of today’s revolution in biomedical research.”