Campus & Community

Broad receives $100M gift to launch research center

4 min read

The Stanley Medical Research Institute today announced a $100 million gift to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to launch a new research center that will combine the strengths of genomics and chemical biology to advance the understanding and treatment of severe mental illnesses.

The philanthropic gift, the largest one ever given to an institution for psychiatric disease research, will support the creation of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, funding research at the center over the next 10 years. Based at the Broad Institute, the Stanley Center will be an interdisciplinary center that will bring together scientists from diverse fields and institutions to pursue collaborative projects. It will build upon the Broad Institute’s current psychiatric disease research, which includes work on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression and unites leading neuroscience and clinical psychiatry researchers at MIT and Harvard. The gift will allow a major expansion of these programs as well as the initiation of new programs.

In the United States alone, more than 8 million people suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and some 17 million are affected each year by major depression. Although the illnesses tend to run in families, suggesting they are influenced by genetics, little is known about their molecular causes. Despite some advances in therapeutics, this dearth of molecular knowledge is a major stumbling block to developing novel, more effective treatments for psychiatric disease.

“Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are among the most devastating psychiatric diseases in America,” said Michael Knable, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute. “Identifying the biological underpinnings of these illnesses requires diverse scientific skills and a robust spirit of collaboration. The Broad Institute is the ideal place for this important work, because of its collaborative environment, scientific excellence, and expertise in genomics and chemical biology.”

“Psychiatric disease is an enormous research challenge, because you can’t study it in cell culture like cancer, or measure it with a blood test like diabetes,” said Eric S. Lander, director of the Broad Institute. “Psychiatric disease may be the most important application for genomics. Genomic tools can help uncover the molecular mechanisms of the disease, which is essential knowledge for developing therapeutics. The Stanley gift is a crucial step toward that goal.”

The Stanley Center will be directed by Edward Scolnick, who founded the Broad Institute’s Psychiatric Disease Initiative. A physician-scientist who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Scolnick was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health from 1970 to 1982, where he worked on cancer, and served as president of Merck Research Laboratories from 1982 to 2003, where he led efforts to develop 29 new drugs and other therapeutics.

“Thanks to the far-reaching vision and unprecedented generosity of the Stanley family, we now have an opportunity to bring powerful new tools to bear on devastating psychiatric diseases,” said Scolnick. “This work would not be possible without the extraordinary caliber and expertise of the MIT and Harvard community. We are grateful for their involvement and eagerly anticipate the scientific fruits of our shared effort.”

Ted Stanley, 75, founder of the Stanley Institute, said, “This is exciting to my wife and me because it gives hope that a partnership with Broad, MIT, and Harvard will accelerate our efforts to help people with serious mental illnesses.”

“The application of the most advanced genomic tools to study schizophrenia and bipolar disorder gives us our best chance to understand the biological underpinnings of these devastating illnesses,” said Harvard University Provost Steven E. Hyman, who previously served as director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “The extraordinary partnership of the Stanley Foundation with the Broad Institute creates new hope for significant progress that can ultimately be translated into much-needed new treatments.”