Research & Development
$25 million gift funds child health centre at U of T
March 13, 2019
TORONTO – Thanks to a $25-million gift, the University of Toronto is creating the Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Children, which will develop innovative approaches to improving child health.
The gift from U of T alumnus Edwin S.H. Leong (pictured) and the Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation will help researchers at U of T and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) to harness the latest advances in the science of child health, and pair them with developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.
Edwin Leong is the sixth son of Henry G. Leong, a comprador of British trading house Jardine Matheson, who died when Edwin was just nine. Now he runs real estate development firm Tai Hung Fai Enterprise, in Hong Kong, which has more than 1,000 properties, ranging from shops to parking lots and hotels. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth US$4.1 billion.
Leong is founder of Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation, which focuses on helping needy children and the elderly.
In Toronto, Leong Centre experts in genomics, pediatrics and public health will use AI and machine learning to develop predictive models based on U of T’s distinctive access to child health and demographic data sets.
As the first project of its kind in the world, the Leong Centre will address a global rise in chronic disease among children – with a particular focus on those who are underprivileged and at risk. It will do this by developing effective evidence-based practices, interventions and policies to prevent disease before it starts, while also improving outcomes for those with disabilities and chronic conditions.
Ultimately, this will lead to solutions that help children to set a trajectory of health throughout their life.
“The Edwin S.H. Leong Centre for Healthy Children will enable both ground-breaking scientific discoveries and scalable policy solutions that have the potential to benefit all children,” says U of T President Meric Gertler.
“It will draw on the University of Toronto’s expertise in childhood health and development, and its position at the centre of one of the world’s strongest biomedical clusters. The Leong Centre is truly a game-changing initiative with potential to improve the lives of young people around the world.”
Leong’s benefaction, together with matching funds from the University of Toronto and SickKids Hospital, will support the centre’s work over an 11-year period.
This gift from Leong is the largest benefaction that U of T has ever received from outside of Canada; one that builds on the connection between Hong Kong and the University of Toronto.
“Raising children requires a holistic approach,” says Leong. “We cannot even begin broad conversations about prosperity, education or innovation without building from a healthy populace – which begins in childhood. I am proud to be able to give back to the institution that helped enable my own success, and improve health outcomes among society’s most vulnerable people. This centre is a chance to fulfill the promise of health for children everywhere.”
Both Leong and the Tai Hung Fai Charitable Foundation that he chairs have an impressive record of international philanthropy. Among many different initiatives around the world, Leong funded the Henry G. Leong Program for Enhanced Training and Research on Holistic Care of the Elderly at Hong Kong University, as well as the Henry G. Leong Mobile Integrative Health Centre Program at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Both of these programs were named in honour of Leong’s father.
Alongside these are five other endowed professorships, also named for Leong’s father: at Chinese University of Hong Kong, a professorship in gerontology and geriatrics; two professorships at Hong Kong University, one in social work and administration and one in neurology; and at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, a professorship in elderly vision health and another in in biomedical engineering.
In 2018, Leong made a remarkable gift of $24 million to the University of British Columbia to establish the Leong Healthy Aging Program at the Faculty of Medicine – the largest individual gift in that faculty’s history.
At the University of Toronto, in 2016 Leong created the Edwin S.H. Leong Scholarship, which recognizes academic excellence and leadership for international students in financial need, helping them to fulfil their goals in higher education.
The Leong Centre will be centred at U of T, but its researchers will collaborate with peers at sister institutions in Canada and around the world, including in Hong Kong, British Columbia and the United Kingdom.
Through these collaborations, the Leong Centre will draw on world-class resources to develop targeted, effective and affordable child health interventions, resulting in improved health outcomes for everyone, and especially those with few health-care resources.
“We are profoundly grateful to Edwin Leong for this visionary support that will have a global impact in raising healthy, flourishing children in Canada and internationally,” says Professor Trevor Young, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “The Leong Centre for Healthy Children will further develop our understanding of the social and environmental influences on child health. It will, ultimately, have a transformative impact across the lifespan since thriving children are more likely to become healthy, productive adults.”