You are here

A young Alice Woo and her father

Honoring a father's memory: One-year-old Alice Woo together with her late father, Vincent V. C. Woo (1910–1981).

A Gift to Ease the Suffering of Others

Alice Woo endows the directorship of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute

Winter 2014

During his lifetime, Vincent V. C. Woo achieved success as a prominent textile industrialist in Hong Kong. However, he suffered from bouts of depression. His daughter, Alice Woo, was deeply concerned and wanted to help. The experience became the inspiration for her to support research on depression and other brain disorders.

Alice WooWith her latest gift to Stanford—the Vincent V. C. Woo Directorship Fund for the Stanford Neurosciences Institute—Alice is honoring her late father and enabling researchers to advance work that may alleviate the suffering of others.

"Part of my intention is to remove the whole stigma about mental health," says Alice, a longtime Palo Alto resident. "It's so important to talk about it and be open. Mental disorders don't just affect one person, they affect the whole family and the community."

Alice has long followed her father's guiding principle: "What you gain from society, you must give back for the benefit of society." She has made multiple gifts to Stanford and other groups over several decades. She sees it as the best way to remember and honor her father.

The directorship allows the inaugural Vincent V. C. Woo Director, William Newsome, to support key projects and promote the mission of the new institute. Newsome is also the Harman Family Provostial Professor, professor of neurobiology and, by courtesy, of psychology; he has served as co-leader of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative.

Boosted by the institute, hundreds of Stanford's best minds are asking and answering far-reaching questions that will transform our understanding of the brain. The quest is engaging neuroscientists as well as experts from the fields of medicine, social sciences, law, physical sciences, engineering, and education.

"When I heard about the institute, I knew it was the right fit for me," Alice says. "I'm a strong believer in interdisciplinary studies."

The Stanford Neurosciences Institute is boldly pursuing a series of "Big Ideas." Newsome announced the first seven projects in October 2014. One will delve deeper into how the brain makes choices in different circumstances, such as when trying to kick addiction or make investment decisions. This work could contribute to improved policies, laws, and outcomes for patients.

Other "Big Ideas" include engineering intelligent prosthetics controlled by the brain, using new discoveries about brain circuits to fine-tune neural activity to treat mental health conditions, and creating a cross-disciplinary team of faculty to focus on brain rejuvenation and recovery.

"Alice's gift creates amazing opportunities to conduct these imaginative, urgent, and inherently collaborative studies," says Newsome. "We are at the beginning of an exceptional time in neuroscience. We will learn things we can't even imagine now, changing how we see and understand ourselves, and dramatically advancing our ability to restore people's health and enhance people's lives."