Nightly News | February 23, 2013
>>> it's not every day that researchers try to cure cancer and other serious diseases say they hit the jackpot. that's what happened this week when 11 scientists were told they were being awarded millions to fund their research. dr. nancy snyderman has the story.
>> reporter: dr. corey bardman of rockefeller university received an unexpected phone call .
>> i thought it was probably one of my friends playing a practical joke .
>> reporter: she had been chosen to receive a $3 million cash prize for her research in brain development . which will hopefully provide breakthroughs in disorders like autism and schizophrenia.
>> this is more like winning the lottery.
>> reporter: ten other scientists worldwide joined bardman in receiving the award. the first of its kind. including dr. lewis cantally of cornell medical college , being recognized for cancer and diabetes research.
>> i was glad i was sitting down, i almost fell.
>> reporter: it's not just the money that surprised these scientists. the people behind it did too. tech billionaires, including russian entrepreneur yuri milliner, facebook cofounder mark zuckerberg , and others formed a nonprofit called breakthrough prize in life sciences . instead of recognizing scientists who are already known for their accomplishments, these 11 recipients are young and studying novel breakthroughs in cancer, gene therapy , and stem-cell research.
>> these are people who don't necessarily get a lot of recognition but they're actually doing things that impact all of our lives.
>> reporter: more than twice the amount of the nobel prize , the breakthrough prize is the largest scientific award that exists. the $3 million allows a scientist to invest in a lab and recruit other young scientists , allowing them to rely less on increasingly tight federal budgets.
>> it's making a statement by rewarding the people who have been making progress.
>> reporter: the announcement of this prize may mean that the future of research in the united states is going to be very different. it may no longer be dependent on east coast establishments like the nih and national cancer institute . it may instead lie on the other coast. in the heart of the silicon valley . dr. nancy snyderman , nbc news, new york.