Psychiatric research accelerates at the Broad

Leah Eisenstadt, May 18th, 2011 | Filed under

After a storied career running a multimillion-dollar business, Ted Stanley and his wife, Vada, set up a philanthropic foundation in the 1980s to invest in good causes. Their goals became a lot more focused when their son developed bipolar disorder and needed treatment. The Stanleys considered themselves fortunate that the drug lithium successfully treated his symptoms – and they want to make sure that someday, there is a much wider range of options for others with psychiatric illness.

Their foundation, the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI), supports research on the causes of, and treatments for, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Four years ago, the SMRI bestowed a $100 million, ten-year grant upon the Broad Institute to launch the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. The Stanley Center is a unique organization that brings together scientists from diverse fields to unlock the genetic mysteries of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, and to translate findings into new treatments for patients.

Since then, Stanley Center scientists have made impressive gains in understanding the genetic basis of these mysterious illnesses, including pioneering discoveries of the first genes underlying schizophrenia and genetic links between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Pleased with the progress that Stanley Center director and Broad core faculty member Ed Scolnick and his team are making, the Stanleys have just pledged to extend their support through 2022, making the Stanley Center a fixture in the biomedical landscape for many years to come.

“We feel the Broad is developing a new paradigm for medical research,” Mr. Stanley says. “And there are wonderful resources in Boston and Cambridge because of MIT, Harvard, and the Harvard teaching hospitals, all cooperating together – this is something that wasn’t going on anywhere else. It’s very important, and very exciting.”

Over the last five years, researchers around the world have developed new tools and methods that have the potential to dramatically change the field of psychiatric research. With new genetic methods, tools for studying the brain’s circuitry, and ways to grow cells in culture that accurately mimic living cells in the brain, the Broad’s Stanley Center researchers can now bring these remarkable tools to bear on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as other psychiatric illnesses.

“It’s really a new world and it’s just starting,” says Scolnick. “All of this has happened in the last few years. What’s different in the field now is it’s no longer stuck. A few years ago, no matter what you wanted to do, you didn’t have a way of approaching these illnesses experimentally. And now you do.”

For more on the Stanleys and the pioneering work of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad, check out the new 2010 Broad Annual Report. To learn more about the discoveries already made by Stanley Center scientists, view these stories in the Broad news archive:

July 1, 2009. Genome study turns up new clues for schizophrenia.

July 30, 2008. A rare glimpse of schizophrenia’s genetic roots.