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Aussie gives $3 million to Philly's Jefferson U. for medical marijuana research

An Australian philanthropist who has never smoked a joint in his life donated $3 million Tuesday to Thomas Jefferson University's recently launched medical marijuana research facility, which will be renamed the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp.

Jefferson touts itself as the first major health sciences university to establish an institution dedicated to medical marijuana education and research in the U.S.

Barry Lambert, 70, made his fortune in Australia's banking industry by building Count Financial, that nation's largest network of accounting and financial advisers. His interest in marijuana research is deeply personal: His 5-year-old granddaughter has been given pot-derived products to help manage seizures.

In August 2015, the  businessman surprised researchers when he pledged nearly $26 million (in U.S. dollars) to the University of Sydney to launch a center for cannabis investigations called the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics. In an interview Wednesday, Lambert said he expects the two research facilities to reach around the globe and work together.

Lambert says he has never had firsthand experience with cannabis in any form.
"I've never had an involvement with marijuana," he said. "I missed out on all that."

His interest is driven by granddaughter Katelyn, who was found as an infant to have Dravet syndrome, a form of epilepsy that causes severe and repetitive seizures. The child, who could not talk, spent her early life in and out of hospitals where she was excessively dosed with traditional epilepsy drugs, Lambert said.

Frustrated by ineffectual legal treatments, Katelyn's father, Michael Lambert, ordered a tube of contraband medical cannabis oil from Denmark. The oil, made from industrial hemp, produced dramatic results, Barry Lambert said.

"It's been miraculous," he said. "Now she's speaking to some extent and runs around and laughs and enjoys life like any normal 5-year-old."

The Lambert Center at Jefferson plans to investigate the therapeutic uses of several substances, called cannabinoids, that are found in the cannabis plant. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the high, is the best known of the compounds. But researchers have found some evidence that cannabidiol (CBD), in conjunction with other cannabis substances, works to tame violent seizures in children, PTSD in veterans, and chronic neuropathic pain. The oil used to treat Katelyn Lambert is primarily CBD.

Lambert said he became aware of the Jefferson project in October and was impressed by the school's "professionalism and innovative, scientific approach."

Charles V. Pollack Jr., who directs Jefferson's Institute for Emerging Health Professions, called Lambert's donation "a huge boost of momentum to pursue the most promising ideas and potential therapies for a range of conditions."