The University of Louisville announced this week that it had received a donation worth $47 million, the largest private gift in its history, which will be used to create a new campus in downtown Louisville focused on holistic health and health promotion.
The campus will be known as the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute – New Vision of Health Campus, which will focus research and outreach on the multiple factors that influence health, including physical, environmental, cultural, social and psychological causes.
According to the Institute’s definition, envirome is a term that refers to “the complete set of natural, social, and personal conditions that shape the health of each individual.” It is unique to each individual and “regulates and influences development, lifespan, disease risk, and physical and mental health.”
The naming of the campus is in recognition of a $30 million gift from philanthropist Christina Lee Brown that will be distributed to the university over a 20-year period. In addition to the cash, Brown is giving the university rent-free use of property she owns on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard that will be repurposed to house the initiative, an in-kind contribution that the university valued at $17 million.
According to the Louisville Courier Journal, the buildings are expected to be fully operational in two to three years.
“We are incredibly grateful to Mrs. Brown for this generous gift of support and this special space in the heart of the city,” said Lori Stewart Gonzalez, interim president of UofL, in the university’s announcement. “On this new campus, UofL researchers will increase our understanding of the many aspects of our environment that contribute to optimum health for everyone, here and beyond. It embodies our commitment to health equity.”
The New Vision of Health Campus will include specially designed laboratories and offices for the UofL Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which was formed in 2018 with a founding gift from the Owsley Brown II Family Foundation. Owsley Brown II was Cristina Brown’s husband; he passed away in 2011. He was the CEO of Brown-Forman, a liquor company founded by his great-grandfather that produced such brands as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Comfort, Old Forester and Finlandia vodka.
Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the UofL Envirome Institute and professor of medicine and chief of UofL’s Division of Environmental Medicine, will direct the research activities of the new campus, which will explore how multiple factors interact to impact both individual and community health.
The Envirome Institute already has a record of influential health research, including:
- The Green Heart Project, which examined the health benefits of living among greater levels of vegetation;
- The Co-Immunity Project, a study of transmission of Covid-19 through testing of individuals and wastewater;
- Research on the effects of smoking and vaping on health;
- Housing an NIH Superfund Research Center devoted to studying the effects of superfund chemicals on cardiovascular health, diabetes and obesity.
The new campus is designed to build on those achievements. University researchers will collaborate with community partners to discover how to become urban problem-solvers, build healthier cities, and create models of health promotion that can be employed around the world.
This holistic approach to health has long been championed by Ms. Brown.“To grow from our past and promote long, fulfilling lives, we shouldn’t chase any single cause. We live in a complex, interdependent world where history is our shared legacy and health is our shared aspiration,” she said. “By honestly recognizing our common stories, we can frame a new vision of health which unifies us. It can inspire healthier lives, healthier communities and a healthier world.”
Bhatnagar echoed that theme. “Health is more than the absence of disease. Health is a resilience that helps individuals withstand all forms of stress. We want to move the discussion of health away from disease and instead focus on actively promoting health before disease occurs.”