The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard has announced a $650 million gift from philanthropist Ted Stanley aimed at galvanizing psychiatric research and the development of new treatments based on a molecular understanding of mental illness.
The largest gift ever in support of psychiatric research will fund the work of scientists at the Broad Institute's Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, which brings together faculty from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Harvard-affiliated hospitals as well as collaborators from around the world. Advances in human genomics have dramatically accelerated scientists' understanding of the biological causes of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the discovery of specific genes associated with these disorders points to possible molecular targets for novel therapies. The center will use the gift to complete the list of genes that play a role in severe psychiatric disorders; reveal the biological pathways in which these genes act; develop cellular and animal models that mimic human disorders; and develop chemicals to modulate biological pathways to serve as drug leads.
"We are going to illuminate the biology behind these conditions," said Eric Lander, founding director and president of the Broad Institute. "If we know the biological causes, we can begin to dispel the stigma around people battling mental illness and rigorously pursue better treatments that will transform patients' lives."
The commitment — which consists of annual gifts made during his lifetime followed by a bequest — brings to more than $825 million the total support the Broad Institute has received from Stanley and his late wife, Vada, whose son has bipolar disorder. While lithium has helped their son live a normal life, many others living with mental illness do not respond to currently available treatments. In the hope of helping those patients, the Stanleys created the Stanley Medical Research Institute in 1989 and established the Stanley Center at the Broad Institute in 2007. Stanley is the founder of the Danbury Mint and a 2012 signatory to the Giving Pledge.
"Human genomics has begun to reveal the causes of these disorders. We still have a long way to go, but for the first time we can point to specific genes and biological processes," said Stanley. "It's now time to step on the gas pedal. I am devoting my personal wealth to this goal. But it will take all of us — philanthropists, government funding agencies, scientists, patients, and families — working together to achieve it."
(Photo credit: Kelly Davidson, Broad Institute)