Key takeaways

  • A $20 million gift from Andrea and Donald Goodman and Renee and Meyer Luskin will fund a new center at UCLA focused on the microbiome and its effect on health.
  • Investigators at the new center will study the microbiome’s role in disease prevention and the body’s immune response.
  • The enterprise will be led by Elaine Hsiao, UCLA’s De Logi Professor of Biological Sciences.

Among the most promising areas of scientific inquiry is the study of the human microbiome and its effect on health. To fuel more rapid progress in this field, Andrea and Donald Goodman and Renee and Meyer Luskin have made a $20 million gift to establish the UCLA Goodman–Luskin Microbiome Center.

Research at the center will focus on the microbiome’s role in disease prevention and the body’s immune response with the goal of developing new treatments for a range of conditions including inflammatory bowel disease; obesity and eating disorders; neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; irritable bowel syndrome; and substance use and psychiatric disorders. There are also gender differences in the microbiome.

“The Goodmans and Luskins have been enduring supporters of UCLA Health’s mission to heal humankind and we are deeply grateful for this visionary gift,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “This is an investment in our distinguished researchers and their ability to find new pathways that advance patient care.”

The microbiome is composed of the microbes — bacteria, fungi, viruses and their genes — that reside in and on our bodies.

Microbial organisms in the human gastrointestinal tract, commonly referred to as the gut, are essential to human development, immunity and nutrition. Autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are all associated with dysfunction in the microbiome.

Scores of investigators at the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and across the campus are working to “fingerprint” the brain and gut microbiome to elucidate the role microbial diversity plays in resistance to disease, and whether lifestyle interventions can reduce the risks for and symptoms of chronic diseases.

“Further study of the relationship between the microbiome and the brain is critical,” said Dr. Steven Dubinett, interim dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Goodmans and the Luskins for their commitment to this innovative field.”

Donald Goodman is the president of Don Lee Farms, a multigenerational family food company he founded in 1982. The company produces food products for the country's top retailers, including Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Kroger and Albertsons. He and his wife, Andrea, have been recognized by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank for their longstanding philanthropic efforts, and by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters for their support of scholarships for exceptional high school students in Inglewood, California.

“Renee, Meyer and I have had a friendship that spans back to my childhood,” Donald Goodman said. “Meyer and I later served together on UCLA Health’s Advisory Board for over a decade. His insights and leadership have been an inspiration for me.

“It has been incredible to see the tremendous impact of UCLA’s scientific advances on the health and well-being of so many people. This gift reflects our families’ dedication to fostering innovative research that will continue to enhance health care.”

Renee and Meyer Luskin earned degrees from UCLA in 1953 and 1949, respectively. Meyer Luskin is an industry leader in the business of recycling and processing food waste. In 2011, the couple made gifts to name the UCLA Luskin Conference Center and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Todd Cheney/UCLA
Chancellor Gene Block, Carol Block, Donald Goodman, Renee Luskin, Meyer Luskin, Andrea Goodman and Dr. Eric Esrailian.

“Our families have witnessed the profound difference philanthropy makes in research and the development of new treatments,” said Meyer Luskin. “This pioneering center will help scientists expand their knowledge about a wide range of diseases and find cures. For us, this is an investment in the future of medicine.”

Geffen School of Medicine scientists collaborate on microbiome-related research with faculty members from the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and the UCLA College divisions of life sciences and physical sciences.

The gift funds a new headquarters in the UCLA Center for Health Sciences to support collaboration among numerous labs and brain-gut investigators engaged in seven focus areas. Elaine Hsiao, UCLA’s De Logi Professor of Biological Sciences, will lead the comprehensive enterprise. In 2022, Hsiao was one of three researchers nationally to be recognized by the New York Academy of Sciences with a Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists.

The gift also funds a fellowship to train and mentor physician-scientists, an early-career research fund to support promising scientists, an endowed chair in brain-gut-microbiome research and an annual symposium — all aimed at fostering a fuller understanding of the brain-gut-microbiome interface and its role in human health.

“The center’s initial focus on brain-gut-microbiome research will build on our existing strengths and advance UCLA’s collaborations with other microbiome research centers across the nation,” said Dr. Eric Esrailian, UCLA’s Lincy Foundation Professor of Clinical Gastroenterology and chief of the division of digestive diseases, which is ranked No. 3 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“This is only the beginning, and we appreciate the friendship and generosity of the Goodman and Luskin families as we explore this incredible scientific frontier.”