Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation commits $220M to Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance

ByStephania Bell ESPN logo
Monday, July 26, 2021

The Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation launched a first-of-its-kind collaborative partnership Wednesday with the goal of transforming global human health by studying and sharing information on human performance.

The foundation launched the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, which combines six public and private institutions aiming to study the biological principles contributing to peak performance in athletes.

Clara Wu Tsai, founder of the Wu Tsai Human Performance Alliance, is co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty, the San Diego Seals and the Barclays Center.

While the Alliance envisions its scientific contributions as extending beyond the world of elite athletes to athletes of all ages and all levels, Wu Tsai's proximity to the experiences of injured athletes and the uncertainties they face when it comes to healing and recovery is vital to its mission.

"When you're close to these athletes and you see what they're going through, you start to wonder, 'How could that have been prevented? What is the right time to return to play? What is the correct kind of healing, including diet, including timing, including sleep?" Wu Tsai said. "And if it's not science-based, then it becomes anecdotal and it's less reliable. I think we want to put that scientific rigor into it so the regimens we put them through can become standard.

"Seeing how devastating these injuries can be for athletes as individuals but also to the team in general, we just felt that this was a role where we should step up."

With a $220M philanthropic investment from the foundation, the Alliance will pursue a set of scientific "moonshots" to uncover the fundamental principles of human performance and pioneer new technologies to transform how people train, heal and perform throughout their lifespan. By comprehensively studying athletes of various ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities and disciplines, the goal is to discover the biological principles that govern optimum performance, from the molecular level to the whole body.

Wu Tsai noted how their approach differs from traditional scientific inquiry in the medical arena. "Scientific funding has traditionally been focused on the study of diseases," she said. "We are taking the opposite approach and studying the human body at its healthiest and most vital, to enable the thriving of all people."

The Alliance members -- Stanford University, Boston Children's Hospital (a Harvard Medical School affiliate), University of California San Diego, University of Kansas, University of Oregon, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies -- will be focusing on the following initiatives:

  • The Digital Athlete, based at Stanford, will create predictive computer models to guide training and treatment for athletes and help improve human health for all.
  • Regenerative Rehabilitation, based at Oregon, will synergize regenerative therapies and rehabilitation protocols to restore function to damaged tissues and prevent injury.
  • The Molecular Athlete, based at the Salk Institute, will map the molecules and gene expression of human performance to optimize training, healing, and recovery.
  • The Multiscale Athlete, based at UC San Diego, will synthesize experimental measurements across multiple biological scales using computer modeling to predict molecular and cellular states of tissues and their effects on whole body performance.
  • The Female Athlete Program, based at Boston Children's Hospital, will focus on female-specific translational research to answer fundamental physiological questions important for improving the health and performance of girls and women.

Critical to the vision of the Alliance members is the translational impact of the work. The moonshots will be complemented by a set of innovation hubs at Alliance member institutions whose focus will be bridging discoveries in the laboratory setting with clinical application, for athletes and non-athletes alike. Wu Tsai says the focus is on "discovery with a purpose," noting that many clinical practitioners are hungry for more science-based interventions in the area of human performance.

"Everything should have an eye to how it translates to human and social impact."

One of the mandates of the Alliance is to make its learnings widely available; to that end, all of its scientific findings will be freely accessible to anyone via itswebsite. Agility projects will provide funding for newly emerging ideas to additional collaborators from multiple disciplines, institutions and countries, creating a global collective effort to advance the science of human performance.

In the world where sports medicine and human performance intersect, perceived competitive advantage has traditionally prevented organizations from sharing best practices. Wu Tsai is clear that this collaborative and open institutional relationship extends to anyone who has an interest in participating in their process or simply accessing their results.

"This is not a Nets philanthropy thing. ... This is a deep-science initiative. We welcome everyone who has an interest in studying healthy bodies and progressing this field to join us."