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Donor Stories: Robert and Lisa Lourie

For Robert and Lisa Lourie, philanthropy is both a joy and a responsibility

Robert and Lisa Lourie aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. “At first, Robert didn’t understand the value in mucking stalls, but he came around,” laughs Mrs. Lourie, referring to her husband’s work at her beloved Spy Coast Horse Farm in Strong’s Neck, New York.

RPbert and Lisa Lourie“The basic parts of caring for livestock are unchanged in 10,000 years,” notes Dr. Lourie. “There’s a very earthy, basic, serene connection. It’s good for us and it’s good for the local teenage kids who work with us.”

The Lourie’s passionate involvement is evident in everything they do — from mentoring youth at Spy Coast Farm to learning about new scientific research and giving back to their local community. “You have to tend your nest,” says Mrs. Lourie.

The couple’s route to success didn’t follow a conventional path. When Robert Lourie dropped out of high school, he never imagined that he would eventually earn a PhD from MIT, become a tenured Associate Professor of Physics at University of Virginia or Head of Futures Research at Renaissance Technologies. He also never dreamed that he would one day be in a position to have a meaningful impact on medical research.

And when Lisa Lourie began her career as a nurse in Boston— working in ICU/CCU and later with AIDS patients — she certainly didn’t foresee a day when her philanthropic efforts could have the potential to facilitate a cure for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis.

Not only have the Louries been able to do those things and more, but their ability to give back has become one of their greatest joys in life. Their recent $2.5 million investment in Stony Brook’s Pediatric MS Center — to be named the Lourie Center for Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis — will also establish the Lisa and Robert Lourie Imaging Suite. The Simons Challenge Grant will bring the total investment in Stony Brook Medicine to $5 million.

“The Center — the first of its kind in the nation — is dedicated to caring for children and adolescents with MS and to conducting research that leads to advances in diagnosis and treatment,” says Kenneth Kaushansky, MD, Senior Vice President of Health Sciences and Dean, School of Medicine. “Its strong multidisciplinary team of experts in MS, pediatric neurology, nursing, psychiatry, and neuropsychology has served as the national model for five similar centers across the country: Massachusetts General Hospital for Children; Mayo Clinic; UCSF; Children's Hospital of Alabama; andJacobs Neurological Institute.”

“The feel-good part of it is when you can incorporate your natural interests into your charitable giving,” notes Mrs. Lourie. “We have no particular connection to Pediatric MS, but it’s an interesting clinical and statistical analysis problem that sort of merged our two lives together. The research is a marriage of the bioinformatics, which is Robert’s end of things, and then the clinical, which is my end of things.”

“It’s not just a pleasure, we both feel it’s a responsibility,” adds Dr. Lourie, who spent six years in the Navy, during which time he taught himself advanced mathematics and physics, took the SATs and, upon his discharge at the age of 23, entered MIT. “We’ve been extremely successful, and part of that success is enabling things that wouldn’t otherwise happen. The pleasure comes from finding the right [ways to give].”

Which comes back to the Lourie’s willingness to get involved — be it mucking stalls or directing their philanthropy to research they believe in. “When you give this directly, you know exactly what’s going to happen, you talk to the people who are doing it,” notes Dr. Lourie.

“These researchers keep us in the loop,” agrees Mrs. Lourie. “It’s food for the brain.”

“Stony Brook Medicine is rapidly becoming a national leader in academic healthcare and research ,” says Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, M.D. “The Lourie’s extraordinary gift will enable us to provide the resources and environment needed to support the best researchers, and to reach new heights in pioneering research.”

As a physicist who works with accelerators, Dr. Lourie appreciates that new machines lead to new discoveries, and is especially excited about the Lourie Imaging Suite’s first purchase: the Siemens Biograph mMR system, a state-of-the-art simultaneous positron emission tomography/magnetic resonance imaging (PET-MRI) scanner. When installed, it will likely be only the second such device in the United States.

“Robert and Lisa’s incredible generosity will help Stony Brook Medicine advance our mission of excellence in so many ways, including both imaging and neurological disorders,” says Dr. Kaushansky. “ The new PET/MRI will allow us to simultaneously determine both structure and function of abnormalities throughout the head and body.

“ Additionally, the Lourie’s gift will focus on pediatric multiple sclerosis,” continues Dr. Kaushansky. “Their gift will allow our faculty to delve into the origins and markers of this devastating disease, hopefully leading to better diagnoses and potentially, treatments.”

Program Director Lauren Krupp, M.D., agrees. “This combination of a PET scanner and MRI in the same unit — which allows two different and complementary imaging methods to be simultaneously applied — presents an exceptional opportunity to expand our research by enabling us to examine the brain tissue at the level of individual cell types,” says Dr. Krupp. “The unique advances made possible by the MRI/PET scanner could dramatically impact the path of future research in MS.”

“Obviously, there are a lot of known, valuable uses for this technology,” says Dr. Lourie. “But it’s new enough that I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the most significant things that come out of it haven’t been thought of yet.”
Dr. and Mrs. Lourie hope they’re inspiring charitable behavior in others, including their son, Alex, 22, and daughter, Julia, 20. Both children have already learned the value in giving back. And the couple consider themselves lucky to have had their own wonderful role models. “Marilyn and Jim [Simons] have been fabulous examples for us,” says Mrs. Lourie.
In the broad sense, the Lourie’s dream is that this research will facilitate a cure for Pediatric MS; in particular, the understanding of the mechanism by which the disease course is reversed in pediatric cases, as opposed to adult cases.

“It’s well-documented and it has to be understandable,” says Dr. Lourie.

“And the further-reaching sense, of course, would be to reveal processes which would affect many diseases,” notes Mrs. Lourie. “Once you get down the road on this one, it’s going to help in a lot of other diseases.”

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Stony Brook is an outstanding public university, offering a wonderful education at reasonable cost to thousands of young people. The generosity of those who joined us in this effort will enhance the University in many dimensions, making that education more valuable still.

—Jim Simons