Michael T. Nietzel
February 9, 2022
The University of California, Irvine (UCI) has received a $57.75 million gift from the estate of Audrey Steele Burnand. Most of the gift – about $55 million – will be used to create a new center devoted to researching the causes and treatments of depression. The center will be called the Noel Drury M.D. Depression Research Center, named after a physician who practiced psychiatry in Newport Beach.
According to a release from the university, the gift represents what’s believed to be the largest philanthropic donation to a U.S. university for research focused solely on depression.
This is a truly transformative gift from a longtime and great supporter of our vital work,” said UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman in the release. “Audrey Steele Burnand’s legacy will enable us to create a world-class research center that builds upon UCI’s historical excellence in the neurosciences to make life better for millions of people.”
Depression is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the U.S. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 21 million adults – or about 8.4% of all adults in the United States – suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2020.
Among adolescents, an estimated 4.1 million U.S. youth had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. That number represents 17.0% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.
Add in other related disorders such as bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder, and the lifetime prevalence of any mood disorder among U.S. adults exceeds 20%. Symptoms of depression are believed to have increased substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic, the byproduct of increased social isolation, economic worries and other health complications.
The most common age of onset for depression is the late teens to mid-20s, although it can occur at any age. Women are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder than men.
Pramod Khargonekar, UCI’s vice chancellor for research, said that the university is well-prepared to maximize the gift’s impact. “With our campus strength in interdisciplinary, collaborative research, we are in a great position to leverage this support to produce discoveries about this debilitating disorder.”
The university plans to use the center’s funding to attract new faculty researchers as well as to draw on existing expertise in a number of areas, including biology, the health sciences, engineering, psychology and the social sciences.
UCI already has several well-established brain science and health research centers on campus that can contribute to the depression initiative, including the UC Irvine Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND), the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the Conte Center@UCI, and the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute.
“I think it’s an extraordinarily exciting development to have a major investment like this in an area in which UCI has so many traditional strengths,” said Dr. Michael J. Stamos, dean of the School of Medicine. “Our objective will be to execute on a full spectrum of research – from basic science to translational studies to clinical trials. It must go from bench to bedside, and I am certain we have the ability to do this.”
The daughter of Grace and Harry Steele, whose Los Angeles company built water-pump engines that helped irrigate the San Joaquin Valley, Audrey Steele Burnand was a well-known philanthropist who lived in Newport Beach. She died in 2020. During her lifetime, she made numerous contributions to the arts, education, environmental conservation, and scientific and medical research throughout Southern California.
As part of the gift to the university, $2.6 million will also be used to provide ongoing support for the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, located in Borrego Springs and managed by UCI. The 75-acre facility offers teaching and research opportunities for students, scientists and the community.