The Broad Institute once again struck gold. In March the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a philanthropy based in Chevy Chase, Md., that supports research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, announced it would donate $100 million over the next 10 years to create a new interdisciplinary research center at the Broad. The center will aim to bridge genetic causes of these two disabling psychiatric diseases to enable more effective, molecular-based treatments.
The Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research will augment the Broad’s current Psychiatric Disease Initiative, and will be run by the initiative’s founder, Edward Scolnick. Scolnick formerly worked as a cancer researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and served as president of Merck Research Laboratories from 1982 to 2003, leading efforts to develop 29 new drugs.
“It is believed that this is the largest gift ever made to a single research group in the field of severe mental illness,” according to Scolnick.
The Stanley Center will use whole genome studies to identify genes that contribute or predispose someone to schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder, as well as high-throughput chemical screens to uncover new modes of treatment. Though antipsychotic drugs have been used as therapy for more than 30 years in the United States, they are ineffective in more than 30 percent of patients, many of whom experience severely debilitating side effects. “The major impediment to the development of new drugs for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder has been a poor understanding of the molecular basis for these disorders,” Scolnick says.
The new Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research will be based at the Broad, which includes MIT neuroscience researchers at diverse institutes, among them the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. It also spans Harvard University neuroscience and psychiatry researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital.
Recent advances in genetic analyses are allowing Broad researchers to identify and characterize the risk genes for psychiatric diseases through linkage and association studies; while effective models, imaging techniques, and translational research will aid in identifying molecules that affect important cellular targets.