The Yale Scholars program, a new School of Medicine initiative to support and nurture promising young scientists, has received its first endowment in the form of a major gift from Donald S. McCluskey, M.Eng., an alumnus of Yale College and the Faculty of Engineering. The endowment will be named for McCluskey’s brother, Robert T. McCluskey, M.D., the Benjamin Castleman Professor of Pathology, Emeritus, at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Also an alumnus of Yale College, Robert McCluskey is a prolific physician-scientist who has published more than 200 research articles on the role of the immune system in kidney disease during a career spanning more than 50 years. In an example of McCluskey’s extraordinary productivity, he learned recombinant DNA technology just before he “retired” as chief of pathology at MGH at age 70 in 1993 and was awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health to embark on a new series of studies on the molecular genetics of renal pathology.

During this period he also became an active mentor to residents training in renal pathology, producing a laboratory manual for their daily use. In appreciation, the residents presented him with their Excellence in Teaching award. He officially retired in 2006.

Donald McCluskey, who graduated from Yale College in 1942 and the engineering school in 1959, has made several gifts to his alma mater, but the donation to the Yale Scholars Program in honor of his brother, a member of Yale’s class of 1944, is his first to the medical school.

Donald’s gift is particularly fitting, Robert says, because the spirit of the Yale Scholars program closely parallels that of an immunopathology research group he joined at New York University School of Medicine in 1955 under the leadership of famed scientist and bestselling author Lewis Thomas, M.D., who went on to become dean of Yale School of Medicine in 1972.

“The setting was exactly right,” Robert McCluskey has written of Thomas’s experimental pathology unit. “He recruited a group of young investigators who had freedom similar to what the Yale Scholars will enjoy. Members could work on any project they chose, and there were many important accomplishments—not the least of which was the discovery of the genetic control of the immune response, for which Baruj Benacerraf was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1980. The unencumbered time to explore new approaches afforded by the Yale Scholars program is the ideal way to uncover new pathogenic mechanisms, which may lead to effective forms of treatment.”

Like their father, the McCluskey brothers grew up in the Morris Cove section of New Haven. “In those days,” Donald says, “Yale was either preppies or local boys.” Donald’s wife, Dorothy, also has an advanced Yale degree, from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She graduated in 1973, then went into politics, serving as a state representative from North Branford in the Connecticut legislature. Her Yale connections reach back to a great-uncle, Josiah Hazen, an 1898 Yale College graduate. And two of the McCluskeys’ three children have Yale degrees, a son from Yale College and a daughter from the law school.

Dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine Robert J. Alpern, M.D., who launched the Yale Scholars Program in order to attract the best young scientists to the medical school faculty, hopes to be able to name five Yale Scholars each year. A gift of at least $2.5 million is needed to fund a Yale Scholars endowment, with each dollar matched by the university. These endowments may be restricted according to a donor’s wishes, and donors will receive an annual report on the work of the scientists they have supported. Each Yale Scholar will receive $1 million in startup funding, distributed over four years. “The Yale Scholars program funds an investigator at an early stage in his or her career and passes every four years to a different one,” Alpern says.

McCluskey’s gift provides the endowment for the first Yale Scholar, who will be chosen from new faculty recruits arriving this summer and fall. “Being named a Yale Scholar will be an honor for young scientists, and it is only going to go to the best recruits,” says Alpern. “We at the School of Medicine are deeply grateful to Donald McCluskey for initiating this program, and it is a privilege to name the first Yale Scholar endowment after such a distinguished physician-scientist.”