Brunner Fund for Medical Discovery, Education and Social Good

To leverage the mission of the Ragon Institute to harness the immune system to prevent and cure human disease, Ursula Brunner, a Swiss lawyer who has spent her career working for social and environmental justice, has provided a generous gift to establish the Brunner Fund for Medical Discovery, Education and Social Good. This unique fund integrates medical research with social interventions that provide immediate benefit to the patients being studied, furthering her life-long commitment to making the world a better, more equitable place.

“This incredible generosity from Ursula Brunner, a long-time supporter of our efforts to address the AIDS epidemic in Africa, has already had a transforming effect on the lives of hundreds and hundreds of young women at greatest risk of HIV infection. It has provided them with a pathway out of poverty, which is known to be one of the greatest drivers of the epidemic,” says Dr. Bruce Walker, Director of the Ragon Institute. “Our entire team is profoundly grateful for what this fund will allow us to accomplish going forward.”

The goals of the fund are best exemplified by the FRESH (Females Rising through Education, Support and Health) Study, which was initiated in 2012 with a gift from Ms. Brunner. Each month, it enrolls a new group of 30 women aged 18-24 who are at high risk of HIV infection due to factors that include poverty, economic dependence, and lack of empowerment. Participants come to the clinic twice per week for 9 months, and have their finger pricked each time to check for HIV infection before attending an empowerment and life-skills training class, together with computer lessons and job readiness training for the participants who, for the most part, have never had a job. The goals are two-fold: lifting the women out of the poverty that drives HIV risk and understanding from those who become infected how the battle with HIV is won or lost.

The scientific discoveries and educational opportunities that have come from the FRESH study have been remarkable and the empowerment program has been transformational—over 80% of the more that 1,200 young women to complete the program by Spring 2019 have been placed in jobs or internships or returned to school. This unique pairing of science with a pathway out of poverty would not have be possible without philanthropic support, and this gift from Ms. Brunner ensures that this program will continue to have impact long into the future.

“We are so blessed to have Ursula’s support to keep this program going, and to expand its scope,” says Krista Dong, MD, the Clinical Director of FRESH. “We will get up every day knowing that our work is not only helping to end the HIV epidemic but is also creating unprecedented opportunities for young women in desperate need.”

The Ragon Institute, established in 2009, has developed a uniquely catalytic collaborative platform in which scientists, engineers and clinicians from different disciplines join forces, breaking down the usual academic silos and thereby allowing them to apply all available knowledge to solving medical problems of major global importance.  The main focus of this research is learning from patients; the broad goal of the Brunner Fund will be to ensure that the creation of scientific knowledge provides immediate benefit to patients, while at the same time serving as a training platform for the next generation of scientific leaders, particularly in Africa.

The Brunner Fund has been established to accept targeted donations for others who may want to support its mission. The following link will take you to the donation page:

For other ways to make a donation, such as by bank wire or securities transfer, please email or call +1.617.643.0447.

Please contact Corrie Martin with any questions.