Norway’s Nobel-winning research couple, May-Britt and Edvard Moser, are celebrating again this week after winning huge financial support for their work from the British-American widow of wealthy Norwegian real estate investor Egil Arne Braathen. Her donation will be matched by the foundation set up by another wealthy Norwegian who emigrated to the US, the late Fred Kavli.
All told, the Mosers will receive nearly NOK 100 million (USD 12 million) to support their research and that of around 100 colleagues and employees of the institute at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, which already has been supported by the late Kavli’s foundation.
“First and foremost, this is just absolutely fantastic,” Edvard Moser told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “And it’s coming at the just the right time, when we’re expanding and growing in several directions.” His research-partner wife, May-Britt Moser, likened the gift to “getting money from a rich uncle in America.” She was bubbling over with enthusiasm as usual on national radio Tuesday morning, also noting on NRK’s morning newscasts that the timing was perfect “and it’s so much money!”
Ties to Alzheimer research
The private donations from Pauline Braathen (age 85) and the late Fred Kavli will formally be paid out to the private, independent Trondheim Foundation for Neuroscientific Research, which in turn will pay out 5 percent of the value of its fund to the Mosers’ institute at NTNU, the Kavliinstituttet for systemnevrovitenskap. DN reported that the gifts will triple the foundation’s capital, and ensure payouts of NOK 10 million annually for the brain research the Mosers lead.
It’s been a year since the Mosers became the first Norwegians to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine, for their brain research that helps explain humans’ sense of orientation. The popular and down-to-earth couple likened their findings to the discovery of the brain’s own internal GPS.
Their groundbreaking work can also be used to help solve the mysteries behind Alzheimers Disease, and that’s what benefactor Pauline Braathen hopes to promote with her donation. “I’ve always wanted to do something in Norway with the money I inherited from my (Norwegian) husband,” she told DN from her home on board the luxury cruiseship The World, while it was berthed off Greenland. She said she wanted to travel to Trondheim herself, to present the gift to the Mosers, but she suffers from Parkinsons and “I’m not strong enough to travel” other than from onboard the ship.
Her late husband, who made his fortune in various relatively low-profile real estate projects in Oslo’s Groruddalen district, suffered from Alzheimer himself and his widow also has donated major sums to the Cleveland Clinic in Florida. Now she wants to help the Mosers: “Very many older people are plagued by Alzheimer. The work May-Britt and Edvard Moser are doing is fantastic.”
Boost for recruitment efforts
Plans call for her donation and Kavli’s matching donation to establish a new research center within the Kavli Institute at NTNU called the “Egil & Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits.” Edvard Moser said it will build a bridge between the research they do and related Alzheimer research being done in cooperation with Trondheim’s St Olavs Hosptial.
“Alzheimer isn’t our primary focus, but the sense of orientation (in which he and his wife specialize) occurs in a portion of the brain that is the first to be affected by Alzheimer,” he said.
Some of the world’s best students and researchers within neuroscience have been attracted to NTNU and the institute where the Mosers work. The new gift will also help with recruitment efforts. May-Britt Moser was bursting with gratitude for the philanthropists behind the gifts.
“They understand that money is important,” she told DN. “Research is an international competition. We need money to recruit top people. This will make it possible for us to help get them here.”