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$20 million gift from Dr. Min Kao and family will have far-reaching impact on autoimmune disease research
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$20 million gift from Dr. Min Kao and family will have far-reaching impact on autoimmune disease research

Fueled by a landmark $20 million gift from the Kao Family Foundation, Cedars-Sinai established the Kao Autoimmunity Institute, deepening its commitment to translational and clinical research to advance the treatment of rheumatic illnesses.

This past fall, members of the Kao family were on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the completion of the first phase of construction of the institute’s clinical space.

With their donation, the Kaos are channeling their philanthropy into far-reaching impact. Led by the insights, experiences and vision of their daughter, Jen Kao—who has scleroderma and is a patient at the institute—the family is helping Cedars-Sinai build a center of excellence on the West Coast that provides comprehensive, compassionate and personalized care for all patients with autoimmune diseases.

Additionally, the Kao Autoimmunity Institute is pioneering discovery in the field and playing a leading role in related outreach, training and education. Housed within the institute is the Kao Multispecialty Scleroderma Program, which is transforming our understanding of this autoimmune connective tissue disease. Scleroderma can cause debilitating inflammation in the skin and life-threatening complications in the lungs, heart, GI tract and other vital organs.

Since receiving the gift, Cedars-Sinai has recruited renowned faculty working at the forefront of autoimmune disease research and clinical care.

Nunzio Bottini, MD, PhD, is the institute’s inaugural director. His cutting-edge investigations into rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma have been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2006.

Francesco Boin, MD, joined the medical center as director of the Kao Multispecialty Scleroderma Program, and he also holds the Cedars-Sinai Chair in Rheumatology.

According to the NIH, an estimated 24 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases—among them scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and Type 1 diabetes.

Min H. Kao) is a Taiwanese-American electrical engineer, billionaire businessman, and philanthropist. He is the co-founder of Garmin, with Gary Burrell, and its chairman.

In 2011, Kao was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for leadership in developing and commercializing compact GPS navigation devices.

Min H. Kao was born in 1949 in Zhushan, Nantou, a small town in Taiwan. He graduated from the National Taiwan University, and earned a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1977.

Kao undertook research for NASA and the United States Army. He was subsequently a systems analyst for Teledyne Systems, an algorithm designer for Magnavox Advanced Products, and an engineering group leader for King Radio Corporation. He also worked for AlliedSignal.

In 1989, with Gary Burrell, Kao co-founded Garmin, a company best known for manufacturing devices that use the Global Positioning System.

Kao stepped down as CEO of Garmin in 2012, but remains executive chairman and a member of the board.

In 2005, Kao gave $17.5 million to the College of Engineering of the University of Tennessee, $12.5 million of which was designated for the construction of a new facility. In May 2007, groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted for the new Min Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. The building was dedicated in March 2012.

In 2014, Kao donated $1 million to the University of Kansas College of Engineering for the building of electrical and computer engineering design labs. In 2015, Kao donated $1 million to the Kansas State University College of Engineering for building four labs.

Kao is married to Fan Kao. They have a son, Ken Kao, who is a film producer, and a daughter, Jen Kao, who is a fashion designer. They reside in Leawood, Kansas and New York City.

Photo: At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Kao Autoimmunity Institute (L-R); Eliz Lee; Eric Kau; Nunzio Bottini, MD, PhD; Francesco Boin, MD; Jen Kao; Adam Leibsohn; Yu-Fan Kao; Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO, Cedars-Sinai; Min Kao; James Lippman, (former) chair, Cedars-Sinai Board of Directors; Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, executive vice president for Medicine and Health Sciences and dean of the medical faculty, Cedars-Sinai; Paul Noble, MD, chair, Department of Medicine, Cedars-Sinai; Heather R. Vučetin , vice president, Development, Cedars-Sinai

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