Carrying Forward an Enduring Connection and Legacy of Philanthropy
By Marina Dundjerski
More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates, the Greek physician considered to be the father of modern medicine, stated, “All disease begins in the gut.” Today, researchers at UCLA are studying the gastrointestinal tract — and the trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that make up its microbiome — inspired by significant medical advances and the promise of life-changing applications in disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
Their work will be greatly furthered by a $20 million gift from Andrea and Donald Goodman and Renee and Meyer Luskin to establish and endow the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center. Part of the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the center will draw scientific expertise from researchers across the UCLA campus, including the UCLA College Divisions of Life Sciences and Physical Sciences, the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
“It’s old, but also very new,” said Meyer Luskin of microbiome research. “Medical science has known that the gut is an area of determination from where illnesses and diseases emanate. They knew that there was a microbiome, but didn’t understand how pervasive and important it was until recently. Being on the front edge, the frontier, of this newer field was something that we wanted to help further.”
Luskin says that he is particularly interested in the newfound connections being studied between the gut microbiome and the brain. Indeed, the microbiome is being investigated as a pathway — from immune and metabolic functions to neurotransmitters such as serotonin — that can affect everything from diabetes to dementia.
The gift will fund a new headquarters in the UCLA Center for Health Sciences to support collaboration in several focus areas, including inflammatory bowel disease; cardiovascular and liver diseases; obesity and eating disorders; neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases; irritable bowel syndrome; substance use, mental illness and pain disorders; as well as gender differences of the microbiome. It also will support a fellowship, an early-career research fund for promising scientists, an endowed chair in brain-gut-microbiome research and an annual symposium — all aimed at a fuller understanding of the brain-gut-microbiome interface and its role in human health.
The fact that microbiome research touches upon such a wide number of areas is what attracted the Goodmans to join in this endeavor. “It has a widespread benefit of helping a large amount of people, and is not limited to one scope of medicine,” said Donald Goodman, president of Don Lee Farms, a multigenerational family food company he founded in 1982. “It strikes me that there is a lot of hope that can lead to other things and help enhance or save people’s lives.”
The joint venture is based on a friendship between the Goodmans and Luskins that goes back a generation. Meyer Luskin, an industry leader in the business of recycling and processing food waste, and his wife were good friends of Larry Goodman, Donald’s late father, and his wife, Muriel Goodman, and the families have been close since.
Luskin says it was Larry Goodman who first encouraged him to serve on the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica Board of Advisors many years ago, when Larry Goodman was chairman. Luskin later became chairman, and years later he encouraged Donald Goodman to join the hospital board. (He later became chairman.)
Things came full circle when last year, as Donald Goodman was looking to make the family’s first transformational gift, he consulted Luskin for philanthropic advice. The two began talking about the microbiome project with Dr. Eric Esrailian (FEL ’06), chief of the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and The Lincy Foundation Chair in Clinical Gastroenterology in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and a new partnership was forged.
“We are extremely grateful to the Goodman and Luskin families for their foresight,” Dr. Esrailian said. “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.”
Both families have a long history of being charitable. “I learned from my parents at a young age about philanthropy,” said Goodman. “They didn’t necessarily teach us about it, but it came through dinner conversations and various experiences. I remember my mom worked on a regular basis at a charity that took in foster children and helped them adapt and cope. I was able to interact with them at a young age. These were experiences that taught me invaluable lessons.”
While this is the Goodmans’ first transformational gift, they have supported several charitable efforts, including the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, and have been honored with a Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition by United States Congresswoman Maxine Waters for financing scholarships for Inglewood high school students.
Andrea Goodman earned her degrees in 1992 and 1994 from UCLA, and Donald Goodman attended UCLA in 1976 before opting to join the family business and shortly thereafter founding Don Lee Farms.
The philanthropic spirit has been instilled in his children, too. “It’s part of our lives,” said Donald Goodman. “We try to find causes to donate to that use their money efficiently and create a positive impact. We try to find something that we feel some sort of attachment or interest in, and then the best part of it is to see the money put to good use and you feel good.” All three of Goodman’s adult sons, who work in the family business, have made gifts to UCLA, including to UCLA Health Operation Mend, the David Geffen School of Medicine and the Simms/Mann–UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology.
Renee and Meyer Luskin, who earned their UCLA degrees in 1953 and 1949, respectively, have given to myriad causes at UCLA. Some that are close to the couple’s heart, Meyer Luskin said, include the Luskin Orthopaedic Institute for Children in alliance with UCLA Health, the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Luskin said that he hopes his own giving will lead to others doing the same. “I don’t go to friends and hope that they will contribute to some philanthropic endeavor,” he said.
“But by seeing that someone else is doing it, I hope they will emulate me. It’s better to lead by example, and encourage others to do the same. Giving is such a personal act. It has to remain on a personal level and you hope you create a situation in someone else’s mind that makes them feel comfortable about doing it.”
“And there are various ways of giving at different levels in life,” Luskin continued. “If you’re volunteering your time, and that’s what you can afford to do, that’s giving. Even holding the elevator door open for somebody, that’s doing good. You have to have a definite sense of security in yourself when you start giving money, which is a very important concept of living well in various degrees. I say, give what you can, analyze your own situation.”
As for this joint gift with the Goodmans, Luskin says he is proud to carry forward the families’ enduring connection and legacy of philanthropy. “It’s just wonderful to look back at the friendship I had with Don’s father and now to have a joint venture with Larry’s son gives an additional satisfaction to the feeling of helping humanity with what we’re doing.”
Marina Dundjerski is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
For more information, contact Laurel Zeno at: 310-418-2364
To read an interview with Dr. Elaine Hsiao, director of the UCLA Goodman-Luskin Microbiome Center, see “Conversation” in this issue of U Magazine.