NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The Stanley Center at the Broad Institute has received a promise of $650 million from philanthropist Ted Stanley to fund genomic research of psychiatric disorders in order to eventually identify and develop molecularly targeted drugs.
According to the Broad Institute, Stanley's new commitment to his namesake institute will consist of annual gifts during his lifetime followed by a bequest, totaling about $650 million. Taking prior gifts into account, Stanley's support of the Broad totals more than $825 million, the institute said.
Initially opened with a gift from Stanley and his late wife in 2007, the Broad's Stanley Center has already made progress in identifying genetic risk factors for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and investigating therapeutic efforts based on those discoveries. This week researchers from Broad and other institutes published a GWAS analysis in Nature that identified more than 100 regions of DNA associated with schizophrenia.
"Ten years ago, finding the biological causes of psychiatric disorders was like trying to climb a wall with no footholds," Stanley Center Director Steven Hyman said in a statement. "But in the last few years, we've turned this featureless landscape into something we can exploit. If this is a wall, we've put toeholds into it. Now, we have to start climbing."
Over coming years under the promised funding, the center has four main goals. First, it intends to complete a list of genes that play roles in severe psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and others, by expanding its international network to draw new collaborators. The center announced it also plans to expand its sample collection efforts, especially among understudied populations, such as those of African origin. As a first step, the researchers intend to analyze all protein coding genes from 100,000 samples over the next two years.
Stanley Center researchers also plan to work with new techniques allowing them to "manipulate and comprehensively measure the dynamic activity of genes in living cells, including lab-grown neurons produced by new stem-cell technologies" in order to hopefully understand how such processes go awry in psychiatric patients, the center said.
Third, the group plans to further study genes of interest in cellular and animal models using techniques such as genome editing to precisely introduce mutations into these model systems.
Finally, the researchers hope to draw on the Broad's Therapeutics Platform to develop compounds that modulate key molecular and biologic pathways that they will investigate as potential targeted psychiatric drugs. The researchers will then comprehensively investigate any promising candidates to determine which might be safely and effectively tested in humans.
"We are going to illuminate the biology behind these conditions," Eric Lander, founding director and president of the Broad Institute, said in a statement. "If we know the biological causes, we can begin to dispel the stigma around people battling mental illness, and rigorously pursue better treatments that will transform patients' lives."