Former Harvard provost Steven E. Hyman will now serve as director for the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, an entity under the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, combining his leadership experience with his passion and success in neurobiology. In the coming years, he said his aim is to increase collaboration and innovation at the Center.
“Research on treatment for the common forms of serious mental disorders ... is really at a standstill, and the opportunity here is the strength of the genetics programs that typify what the Broad is about,” Hyman said.
The Stanley Center—created in 2007 with the help of a grant to the Broad Institute—aims to combine approaches from the fields of chemical biology and genetics to better understand schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.
Prior to becoming director of the Center, Hyman served as director of the National Institute of Mental Health in the 1990s, which helped fuel his interest in the problems posed by serious mental illnesses.
Subsequently, he served as Harvard University provost for 10 years. While provost, Hyman stayed active in the field of neuroscience and psychiatric disease by keeping up to date with literature and serving on committees on the genetics behind mental disorders. Hyman also consistently taught undergraduate courses in neurobiology.
He has been guest lecturing at Harvard Medical School and plans to return to teach an undergraduate course at the College next year.
Hyman will replace former director Edward M. Scolnick ’61, who helped found the Center. As director, Scolnick helped raise money for the Center and guided the scientists, forging strategies for the program.
The Broad Institute conducted an international search for a new director after Scolnick decided to step down. Hyman had been on sabbatical at the Broad for the past six months.
“We’re counting on his leadership for the Stanley Center,” said Eric S. Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute.
“Real wonderful leaders still have the fire in the belly to keep pressing the frontiers. We couldn’t be luckier to have him,” he added.
Steven McCarroll, director of genetics at the Stanley Center and an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, said Hyman’s ability to think in an integrated way about genetics, neurobiology, and clinical psychiatry will serve him well in his new role.
“There are few people in the world who can master the ability to think in an integrated way about these and that’s exactly what you would want,” McCarroll said.
Hyman is also looking to get more members of the Harvard community—faculty, graduates and undergraduates—involved at the Stanley Center, including those at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, as they begin to develop stem cell models.
Hyman’s current projects include working with colleagues at the Center to devise strategies on how to move from genetic determination to broader biological studies, including exploring computational modeling for the research.
“[The] coming challenge is how to take the emerging genetic information and turn it into biological experiments that help explain these,” Hyman said.
Hyman also noted the abandonment of the study of brain disorders by the biotechnology industry and hopes that he can help to promote that field of research .
“I think if we in academia can begin to make some headway it will attract back some of the players who could translate these discoveries into treatments,” Hyman said.
—Staff writer Kerry M. Flynn can be reached at email@example.com.