UC Irvine aims to transform public health with record-breaking $200-million donation

Susan caught a cold while visiting France more than three decades ago. Instead of the usual medicines, a friend suggested aconite, a homeopathic remedy derived from a plant in the buttercup family.

She was cured — and became a lifelong advocate of homeopathy and other alternative healing methods to complement conventional medicine. Her husband, Henry — the billionaire co-founder of , the Irvine semiconductor maker — says he was initially skeptical but found the integrative health approach helped him easily shake off colds and flus and kept their children healthy without antibiotics.

Now the couple’s passion for integrative health has led to the largest donation ever made to . On Monday, UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman announced that the Samuelis have donated $200 million to launch what he billed as the nation’s first universitywide enterprise to embed integrative health approaches in research, teaching and patient care.

“The human body is a very complex and highly interconnected system. Therefore our healthcare needs to be looked at through a more holistic lens,” Henry Samueli, who also owns the Anaheim Ducks, said in remarks at UC Irvine. “Our genetics, our surrounding environment, our nutrition, our physical activity and our mental state all play critical roles in our well-being.”

Earmarked in the gift, the seventh largest ever made to a U.S. public university, is about $50 million for a new building to house the College of Health Sciences, which will bear the Samueli name. An additional $5 million will go toward new labs and technology.

The remaining $145 million will create an endowment to hire up to 15 faculty chairs in its medical, nursing, pharmaceutical sciences and public health schools and programs. The endowment also will fund curriculum development, along with training, mentoring and scholarships for medical students. The Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, which the Samuelis founded in 2001 with a $5.7-million donation, will be expanded into an institute conducting research and offering patient care, education and community outreach.

The Samuelis said they hope their financial support for research will help build evidence for alternative therapies that would convince insurers to pay for them, thus letting more people benefit. Acupuncture, for instance, has been widely documented to ease migraines, according to Howard Federoff, a specialist in neurodegenerative disorders and UC Irvine’s vice chancellor for health affairs. But not all health plans cover the treatment.

Gillman said a more holistic approach is needed, particularly to treat widespread chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, and to meet the “desperate” demand for alternatives to opioids.

Federoff said the new initiative will focus on ways to prevent disease as well as treat it. He follows a Mediterranean diet and a regimen of regular exercise and meditation.

“It is becoming clear that the existing modern focus on specific disease sites is unsuitable to meet the needs of entire populations beset by chronic conditions,” Federoff said in his remarks. “We are reaching a tipping point in which a holistic approach is required.”

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