CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—A $100 million gift from the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI) to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard will establish the new Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. The Stanley Center will investigate molecular bases of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"The strategic thrust for the gift is for us to try to go from basic bench science research to translational applications of that and hopefully at some point that would mean therapeutics," says Edward Scolnick, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. With diverse resources that include collaborations with institutions like Harvard Medical School and Harvard hospitals, Scolnick says that either the Broad Institute or a pharmaceutical company could develop potential drugs.
A prepared statement from Michael Knable, executive director of the SMRI, says, "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. Dr. Scolnick's team plans to use the largest collection of DNA samples ever assembled from patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in order to scan the entire genome for gene variants that predispose to these illnesses."
SMRI will fund the Center's research for 10 years. It complements SMRI's mental health research portfolio, which includes drug development programs, treatment trials, and the Stanley Brain Research Laboratory, housing a collection of brain tissue that is provided free of charge to researchers.
The Broad Institute, says Scolnick, provides unique resources enabling scientists with labs to interact with other scientists and access equipment and expertise for technologies like proteomics analysis or DNA sequencing. The Institute organizes its activities around scientific programs and scientific platforms in a community that also includes the Whitehead Institute.
Scolnick says population genetics will be one aspect of the new research, noting Broad scientist David Altshuler's involvement in the SNP Consortium and International HapMap Project and those projects' contributions to linking genes and disease risk. Stuart Schreiber's chemical biology department, equipped for cell-based screens to look for chemicals that perturb pathways, will search for compounds with new mechanisms of action against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Both Scolnick and Knable stress that little is known about the causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with newer medications keying off the same mechanisms as their decades-old predecessors. Knable estimates that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder affect six million Americans, with each disease costing over $65 billion annually. Nearly a third of patients do not respond to current drugs for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Knable writes that Scolnick's presence at the Broad Institute catalyzed SMRI's gift, adding that Scolnick's background includes cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and serving as president of Merck Research Laboratories, "where he led efforts to develop 29 new drugs and other therapeutics." Scolnick founded the Psychiatric Disease Initiative at the Broad Institute.
"I have a background that allows me to think about going from bench science to translational work," says Scolnick, who stresses the importance of creativity in the new research. He believes the flexibility of SMRI's gift will provide important latitude and time for finding novel approaches. "I think the take-home message is that it's an extremely generous and important gift," he says. "It will allow a real multidisciplinary collaborative effort to try to achieve real insight into the cause of these illnesses. There is almost none today."