The brain is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of our body, and it’s the sole strength behind our constant advancement and innovation. Yet the brain can often suffer, whether it be from injury, disease, or disorder.

Research reveals that the brain begins to show signs of cognitive decline as early as a person’s 20s, and that three out of five Americans will develop a brain disease in their lifetime. Between 13 to 16 million individuals who are over 18 live with common brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s, strokes, brain tumors, and even mental illness. Not only that, but 13 to 16 percent of U.S. households may be dealing with the added responsibilities of caring for a loved one with an adult-onset brain disease or disorder. When it comes down to it, the health of our brains can severely affect our quality of life, and we should do everything in power to find solutions to the various brain-related issues that we encounter.

Philanthropy in particular has long stood as a meaningful path toward advancement in the health and medical industries. It provides scientists and medical professionals with the resources they need to discover treatments or cures, while also allowing them to care for patients on a greater scale.

And of all the philanthropic organizations I’ve encountered, few have left as much of an impact as The Brain Trust at Cedars-Sinai, a non-profit hospital in LA.

The group was formed in support of Dr. Keith Black, who is chief of neurosurgery at Cedars Sinai. Dr. Black has treated a number of high profile patients, including Johnnie Cochran — he passed due to a brain tumor, but treatment allowed him to live years longer than expected. Dale Cochran, Johhnie’s widow, along with other women who had been touched by the work Dr. Black was doing, helped organize funds for Dr. Black, which became the Brain Trust. Members include Pauletta Washington and Keisha Nash-Whitaker, the wives of Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker respectively. The Brain Trust raised $10 million for Dr. Black’s work at the medical center’s Maxine Dunitz Neurological Institute, which he himself opened when he came to Cedars-Sinai in 1997. 

The neurosurgery department already receives $2 million a year in grants, but Dr. Black has said that the Brain Trust’s contributions “allow us to do the high-risk, high-return type of work that is yet unproven, so it’s not the kind of work where we can go to the granting agencies.” The Brain Trust’s funds have contributed toward research for brain cancer vaccines, an Alzheimer’s vaccine, nanodrugs to enhance chemotherapy, and more.

Of the multitude of issues that face the hospital and healthcare systems, many of them are finance-related. Dr. Black’s statement makes it clear that the sea change neuroscience and brain health needs will take more than the typical resources that researchers and professionals are afforded. High operating costs and other expenses prevent the proper funding to be placed in research and development areas. This is why philanthropy, and why the Brain Trust, has proved so effective for Dr. Black’s institute. 

Dr. Black’s statement makes it clear that the sea change that brain research needs will take more than the typical resources that researchers and professionals are afforded. At the same time, revenue for non-profit and smaller hospitals grew at slower rates. It seems to me like philanthropy can open up new opportunities and developments for the brain and for healthcare in general. 

Trends in healthcare have shown that one of the best fundraising strategies for hospitals and medical centers is to appeal to philanthropy through separate foundations. This makes it clear that when medical center finances are lacking, philanthropy can do more than fill that gap. Philanthropy only promises to continue growing and gaining interest, and can be a major contributing factor in helping get these organizations on their feet and researching.

I have been an avid supporter and donor to the Brain Trust, not just because I believe in Dr. Black’s work, but because I believe that we can use philanthropy to impact the innovation and progress in brain care research and treatments as a whole.

The brain is a highly complex organ that remains mysterious to us, so much so that our efforts in providing cures and treatments for various brain disorders and diseases have been an uphill battle. But through charitable giving and greater philanthropy, we might finally have the resources to truly dedicate ourselves to taking better care of the brain.