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Endowed Chair of $5 Million to Accelerate Change in Addressing Addiction and Mental Health

Gift from David and June Trone Family Foundation helps support research on addiction, related disorders

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U.S. Rep. David Trone and June Trone

A $5 million gift to American University creates a new endowed eminent scholar chair in neuroscience and behavior and accelerates AU’s leading-edge scientific work in understanding the relationship between the brain, behavior and disease. AU Board of Trustees member and U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., and his wife, June, made the gift through the David and June Trone Family Foundation as part of the recently announced comprehensive fundraising campaign, Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University

In making the gift, Trone said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the health threat of cognitive disorders such as addiction and the lack of effective, accessible treatments. June and I believe the research at AU’s Center for Neuroscience and Behavior has the potential to drive transformational change in the way we address issues of addiction and mental health.”

Funds from the endowment support a faculty position and innovative teaching, research and scholarship in perpetuity, and the gift creates the first eminent scholar chair in AU’s history. Faculty chairs and philanthropic support for AU’s groundbreaking research are important campaign priorities.

“David and June are dedicated advocates for mental health, particularly around the issue of addiction. This gift to establish the Trone Family Eminent Scholar Chair reflects their ongoing commitment to enhancing addiction research, treatment, and recovery,” said AU President Sylvia M. Burwell. “I could not be more grateful for their commitment to this issue and to American University.”

At AU, psychologists, biologists, chemists, and other scientists conduct path-breaking research on cognitive disorders to address health inequities, support effective preventive treatments, and improve policy around science and disease. They carry out this work collaboratively from AU’s new Hall of Science, a 125,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility dedicated to teaching and to impactful research that improves lives and communities.

Terry Davidson, distinguished professor of neuroscience, chair of AU’s Department of Neuroscience, and director of AU’s Center for Neuroscience and Behavior, will be named the first Trone Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Neuroscience and Behavior. The gift will support Davidson’s work with colleagues at AU on diet and an individual’s susceptibility to addiction and issues of cognitive control to address a root cause of drug abuse.

Prof. Terry DavidsonProf. Terry Davidson

Davidson is a leading researcher in the effects of diet on the brain, and how people who consume a diet high in saturated fat and sugar have difficulties learning, remembering, concentrating, and can become unable to resist environmental temptations to eat. Linking his discoveries to addiction marks a fundamental shift in traditional approaches to addiction, linking both drug abuse and overeating to impairments in cognitive, rather than motivational, control. The work suggests that western diets act as a type of “gateway drug” in that their disruptive effects on the hippocampus reduce a subject’s ability to resist drug addiction.

The preliminary findings of AU researchers have yielded hopeful evidence that a drug that protects against hippocampal pathophysiology may also be effective in the treatment of both obesity and addiction.

Davidson’s students say he embodies AU’s teacher-scholar model, where faculty engage students in their research and actively incorporate it into their teaching.

“He encourages curiosity, scientific discussion, and challenges his students to be the best versions of themselves,” said Sabrina Jones, who completed a Ph.D. at AU in 2019 under Davidson’s supervision. Emile Batchelder-Schwab, who spent two years in Davidson’s lab while earning undergraduate degrees in psychology and chemistry and is pursuing a Ph.D. at Purdue, said, “The ability to work with AU faculty sets us apart and more than prepares us for future research endeavors.”

The gift from the Trone Family Foundation will support Davidson, and his students, in their important work.

“This is a truly wonderful and generous gift,” Davidson said. “It will encourage, support, and bring greater attention to the efforts of neuroscientists and other multi-disciplinary researchers at AU, who aim to advance understanding of some of the most serious challenges to human and health and well-being.” 

The Trones’ gift marks a moment of philanthropic momentum at American University. On May 12, AU launched the most ambitious fundraising campaign in its history to create transformative educational opportunities for students, advance research and teaching with impact, and build stronger communities locally, nationally, and globally. With $270 million raised towards the $500 million goal, Change Can’t Wait: The Campaign for American University builds on AU’s important work of empowering the university community to take on society’s most complex challenges.