Well-Being Mental Health

University of California, Irvine receives $55M to establish depression research center

The University of California Irvine Medical Center is seen in Orange, Calif., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021.  Damian Dovarganes/ AP

Story at a glance

  • A philanthropist that died in 2020 left a parting gift of $57.7 million for the University of California, Irvine.
  • About $55 million will go to creating the Noel Drury M.D. Depression Research Center.
  • It’s considered to be the largest philanthropic donation to a U.S. university to support research focused exclusively on depression.

The University of California, Irvine has received a multimillion-dollar gift to establish the first of its kind depression research center, the most prevalent mental health disorder in the country. 

The university announced on Monday that the estate of Audrey Steele Burnand had gifted $57.7 million to fund the creation of a new campus wide center that will pursue research into the causes and treatment of depression while also supporting the UCI-managed Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center.  

Steele-Burnand, a well-known philanthropist who lived in Newport Beach, Calif., contributed to the arts, education, environmental conservation and scientific and medical research at institutions throughout Southern California. She died on June 27, 2020. 

In a parting gift to UCI, $55 million of Steele-Burnand’s gift is earmarked for advancing depression research, creating the Noel Drury M.D. Depression Research Center. 

The school believes this to be the largest philanthropic donation to a U.S. university to support research focused solely on depression.  


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“Audrey Steele Burnand’s legacy will enable us to create a world-class research center that builds upon UCI’s historical excellence in the neurosciences to make life better for millions of people,” said Howard Gillman, UCI chancellor, in a statement. 

The remaining roughly $2 million will go toward providing perpetual support to the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, which provides research and environmental engagement opportunities for students, scientists and the community. 

UCI already has research centers focused on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, behavior and learning and integrative health that are potentially poised to also benefit from Steele-Burnand’s philanthropy. 

“Our objective will be to execute on a full spectrum of research – from basic science to translational studies to clinical trials. It must go from bench to bedside, and I am certain we have the ability to do this,” said Michael J. Stamos, dean of UCI’s school of medicine, in a statement. 

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance estimates major depressive disorder affects about 17.3 million American adults, which accounts for about 7 percent of the population. Women are almost twice as likely as men to have had depression.  

Depression has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic began, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that during late June 2020, 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. Within that, 31 percent of people reported having anxiety/depression symptoms. 


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