Rice’s Baker Institute unveils Neuro-Policy Program, $1M gift to advance Texas ‘brain capital’

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A $1 million gift to Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy from Harry Yan and Weiman Gao will establish a new Neuro-Policy Program to advance interdisciplinary approaches to addressing brain health challenges as well as spurring economic opportunity.

Neuro-policy is a rapidly evolving field that uses medicine, neuroscience, public health, economics, architecture and social determinants of health disciplines to measure brain function and health to evaluate economic outcomes.

As Rice continues its expansion of research and innovation efforts, health innovation is a strategic area of focus with neuroscience, neurotechnology, brain health and neuro-policy as top priorities, Rice Executive Vice President for Research Ramamoorthy Ramesh said. The university will leverage key partnerships within the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world, to help pursue these areas, he said.

Harris Eyre, senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute and lead of the Neuro-Policy Program, said the escalating burden of neurodegenerative and mental health disorders — including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease — has taken a staggering toll on both individual health and well-being and the overall U.S. economy.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” Eyre said. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

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Brain capital is the collective value of the human brain in terms of its health, function and potential, Eyre said. It drives creativity, resilience and adaptability in the 21st-century economy and enables society to solve complex problems, generate new ideas and learn new skills. This initiative aims to enhance brain performance, economic and national security and resilience for all Americans, including women, veterans and critical personnel such as law enforcement, medical personnel and first responders.

“The human brain is one of our most critical assets, but we are only just starting to understand how it truly functions and how our environment or systems impact the brain’s health,” said Eyre, who will collaborate with Rola El-Serag, the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Senior Fellow in Health Policy and director of the Baker Institute Center for Health and Biosciences, to advance this work.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” said Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”

The family's philanthropic efforts have been centered on enhancing education and healthcare, ensuring that their initiatives are both impactful and sustainable, and inspiring others to join in making a difference.

The program’s key projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts and a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth and working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

David Satterfield, director of Rice’s Baker Institute, said the new program aims to position Texas as a leader in advancing brain health by providing a roadmap for policymakers and key stakeholders in neuroscience, industry and philanthropy to support positive brain and mental health outcomes while bolstering economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” Satterfield said.

Yan and Gao were motivated to grant the $1 million to establish the program after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health featuring U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Houston). Luttrell co-chairs the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

In addition to its strategic emphasis on health innovations, the university, under the leadership of President Reginald DesRoches, also prioritizes research in sustainable futures, responsible artificial intelligence and thriving urban communities. These initiatives are supported by a network of research institutes, centers and accelerators with key partnerships in the Texas Medical Center and the energy industry.