Campus & Community

Mendelson, substance abuse research pioneer, 77

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Jack H. Mendelson, director of McLean Hospital’s Clinical Research Program on Substance Abuse, co-director of its Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center (ADARC), and professor of psychiatry (neuroscience) at Harvard Medical School (HMS), passed away on Aug. 15 after a brief illness. He was 77.

A dedicated and well-respected researcher and mentor, Mendelson, along with his wife Nancy K. Mello, founded the ADARC at McLean Hospital nearly 35 years ago.

“Jack was a pioneer in the investigation of the biological and behavioral aspects of substance abuse and was among the first to bring multidisciplinary collaboration of modern technology and organized research administration to this field of study,” said Scott L. Rauch, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “His findings not only revolutionized scientific understanding of substance use behavior, it stimulated a new generation of behavioral and psychosocial researchers.”

Mendelson authored more than 480 original peer-reviewed articles in numerous biomedical journals, including Science, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine, the American Journal of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, and the Journal of the American Medical Association. His influence on the field of substance abuse research was recognized earlier this summer, when the College on Problems of Drug Dependence honored Mendelson and Mello with the Nathan B. Eddy Memorial Award for their innovative advances in the field of drug addiction research and treatment.

Born in Baltimore, Mendelson earned a bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1951 and a medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1955. Following medical school, he completed his internship at Boston City Hospital (BCH) and his psychiatry residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1966, he became the first chief of the National Center for the Prevention and Control of Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health. In 1970, he was named chief of the BCH Psychiatry Department. Three years later, McLean Hospital recruited him to spearhead its alcohol and drug abuse research program — a program that has burgeoned under his and Mello’s leadership, and is characterized by knowledge, hard work, and scientific savvy. In its 34 years, the ADARC’s multidisciplinary research programs have expanded exponentially. The center now includes four laboratory divisions, which, since their founding, have been continuously funded by competitively obtained, peer-reviewed, federal grants and contracts.

A widely recognized authority and contributor to the science of addiction, Mendelson was often sought by key policymakers in Washington, D.C. He served as a consultant to the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, overseen by the Executive Office of the President; the President’s Biomedical Research Panel; and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was a member of the nominating committee for the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine since 1982.

Mendelson’s awards include the Journal of Nuclear Medicine Award of Merit; the Distinguished Research Award from the Research Society on Alcoholism; the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry Founders Award; and the Hofheimer Prize from the American Psychiatric Association for Research in Alcoholism. In 2003, he became a distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

He was the associate editor for Psychosomatic Medicine and was regional editor for Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior. From 1984 until 1991, he was co-editor of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

“Dr. Mendelson’s personal and scientific contributions to the field of substance abuse research and treatment, coupled with his devotion to mentoring young investigators, will serve as a lasting legacy to McLean and to the broader scientific community,” said Rauch.

He leaves his wife of 33 years, Nancy K. Mello; two sons, John E. Mendelson and Adam Mendelson; a daughter, Ellen Mendelson Maher; and four grandchildren. In accordance with the family’s wishes, those wanting to contribute to the establishment of a research award in honor of Mendelson’s memory may send donations to the Jack H. Mendelson Memorial Fund, McLean Hospital, Development Office, 115 Mill St., Belmont, MA 02478.