A $1 million gift by Andrew and Erna Viterbi and family is enabling Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute to pursue a two-year neuroscience research initiative.

Sanford-Burnham, known for its efforts in discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease for the development of therapies, plans to use the research to better understand the underlying causes of disease related to the brain and the nervous system.

Taking a cross-disciplinary approach, the initiative will combine expertise in cellular behavior and stem cell research under the direction of Sanford-Burnham CEO John C. Reed and the director of the institute’s stem cells and regenerative biology program, Evan Y. Snyder. The project will employ “disease in a dish” technology, in which stem cells are used to generate large collections of a particular cell type in the laboratory — in this case, certain types of brain cells.

Andrew Viterbi’s involvement with the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla stretches back to the mid-1980s when he was invited to join the institute’s board by co-founder Bill Fishman. During the past three decades he has remained active on the board and his wife has had longtime involvement with the Fishman Fund for the recognition of postdoctoral researchers.

“Over the years we’ve been impressed both by the bright minds that call this place home and by the institute’s culture that is consciously designed to foster ingenuity and collaboration,” said Viterbi, a Qualcomm Inc. co-founder who is recognized in the field of digital communication. “Under the leadership of Dr. John Reed, Sanford-Burnham has become the place to embark on a project such as this.”