$650 million cash injection for psychiatric biology research

23 July 2014

Schizophrenia and bipolar research at the Broad Institute have received a major injection of funding from businessman Ted Stanley.

The ground-breaking $650 million gift is the largest to be given worldwide to psychiatric research and one of the largest in general for scientific research. The gift will be given as annual payments followed by a bequest. Including previous gifts, Stanley’s philanthropic donations to the work of the Broad Institute, a forerunner in this field, amounts to $825 million.

Schizophrenia affects around 25 million people worldwide; however, there are currently no curative or preventative interventions but only drugs available to treat the symptoms. Research into mental illness is difficult as, unlike cancer research, the cells in mental illness are inaccessible inside the highly complex brain. Pharmaceutical companies have largely abandoned drug development due to the complexity and risk of failure of treatment which has partly been the cause of little advancements in drug treatment in the last quarter of a century.

Markedly, the cash injection came hours after a study published in Nature identified more than 100 areas of the human genome associated with schizophrenia risk. This research, from collaborators including staff at the Broad, highlights the deep complexity behind schizophrenia causation, but also underlines the promise of genomic analysis, according to Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute.

Dr Steven Hyman, director of the Stanley Centre for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute, said the gift in the short term will provide a boost for the additional genetic sequencing but also in the long term will allow the Centre to undertake “important long-term projects and also risky projects” pertinent to understanding the complex biological factors involved in mental illness. It will also help the centre to accomplish four major goals to: 

  • complete the list of all genes that play a role in severe psychiatric disorders
  • reveal the biological pathways in which these genes act
  • develop cellular and animal models that faithfully mimic human disorders
  • develop chemicals to modulate biological pathways to serve as drug leads

 

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