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$650 million commitment to Stanley Center at Broad Institute aims to galvanize mental illness research

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Broad Institute has announced an unprecedented commitment of $650 million from philanthropist Ted Stanley aimed at galvanizing scientific research on psychiatric disorders and bringing new treatments based on molecular understanding to hundreds of millions of people around the world.

The Stanley commitment—the largest ever in psychiatric research and among the largest for scientific research in general—will support research by a collaborative network of researchers within the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, a biomedical research institution that brings together faculty from MIT, Harvard University, the Harvard-affiliated hospitals and collaborators worldwide.

Stanley’s commitment to support the work of the Broad Institute will consist of annual gifts during his lifetime followed by a bequest, with a total current value exceeding $650 million. Taking prior gifts into account, Stanley’s support of the Broad Institute’s work totals more than $825 million.

The biological causes of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have mystified scientists for decades; in the last five years, however, understanding has accelerated dramatically, driven by advances in human genomics. Because researchers cannot study the biochemistry of the living human brain, the genes that predispose people to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder represent the best way to gain molecular insights into these disorders. The discovery of specific genes associated with these disorders provides significant clues to their biological basis and points to possible molecular targets for novel therapies.

Since 2004, Ted Stanley and his late wife, Vada Stanley, have been instrumental to the progress made thus far in identifying the genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and the initiation of therapeutic efforts based on those discoveries. Their gifts made possible the establishment of the Stanley Center at the Broad Institute in 2007 and helped support an international collaboration that today involves scientists in 25 countries. Stanley’s new commitment is the culmination of a 25-year personal mission to discover the biology of psychiatric disorders and lay the groundwork for effective therapies.

“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. It’s now time to step on the gas pedal,” Stanley said. “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.”

“This is a pivotal moment,” said Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “We are finally beginning to gain the deep knowledge about these disorders that we have sought for decades.”

The Stanley Center engages a community of more than 150 scientists at the Broad Institute and its partner institutions. Over the coming years, the center plans to draw on Stanley’s tremendous generosity to accomplish at least four major goals:

  • Complete the list of all genes that play roles in severe psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism and others.
  • Reveal the biological pathways in which these genes act. To do so, they will push technological boundaries, working with new techniques that allow them to manipulate and comprehensively measure the dynamic activity of genes in living cells, including lab-grown neurons produced by new stem-cell technologies. Their ultimate, ambitious goal: to determine where, when and how these genes act in human brain cells, and how in psychiatric patients those processes may go awry.
  • Develop cellular and animal models that faithfully mimic human disorders.
  • Develop chemicals to modulate biological pathways to serve as drug leads.

The mission of the Stanley Center is to reduce the burden of serious mental illness through research. Stanley Center researchers focus on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other neuropsychiatric disorders. The Center aims to exploit the most advanced technologies for human genetic analysis to study these psychiatric disorders to understand disease mechanisms, identify potential biomarkers and ignite needed progress in therapeutics. It was launched in 2007 by a $100 million commitment from the Stanley Medical Research Institute.

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