MU Department of Child Health to receive $500,000 donation

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 5:16 p.m. CDT; updated 10:32 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 13, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Leda J. Sears Trust announced Tuesday that it would donate $500,000 to the MU School of Medicine's Department of Child Health for pediatric research.

During a reception at the Women's and Children's Hospital conference center, trustee Lou Leonatti said the funds would be allocated over eight yearsc. 

The donation will mark $1.2 million of research funding for the Department of Child Health provided by the Leda J. Sears Trust.

Leonatti said making public the result of pediatric research is crucial in mid-Missouri, where major medical centers in places like St. Louis and Kansas City are far away.

"The mission is central Missouri," he said. "We have to tell our story."

A faculty committee within the Department of Child Health will meet annually to determine how the funds will be used. The first meeting will occur later this year, MU Healthcare Media Coordinator Derek Thompson said.

Since its creation in 1990, the trust has helped fund the Thompson Center, which researches autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, and research on childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes, blood and brittle bone disorders and maple syrup urine disease. 

Charlotte Phillips, associate professor of Child Health and Biochemistry, conducted trust-funded research that saved the lives of three children with maple syrup urine disease. She initially received $196,005 from the trust, but she received an additional $1.8 million from external sources as a result of receiving those initial funds.

"Science is like business; you have to spend money to make money," Phillips said. 

Medical School Interim Dean Les Hall said the support MU receives from the trust makes the university an attractive recipient of donations from other organizations.

"I believe this gift will signal to others that MU is worthy of philanthropic investment," he said. 

The Leda J. Sears Trust was created by the estate of Leda and Forrest Sears, who moved to Mexico to invest in real estate during the Great Depression. Before Leda Sears died in 1990, she established a trust that would direct her income to medical research funding. 

The trust has made donations to the University of Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis and MU. Leonatti said MU was selected for donations because he was promised all donations would directly fund research. 

"We needed accountability and assurance the money was being spent," he said. "We found honesty at MU."

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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