Record-Setting $650M Donation Paves Way for Psychiatric Research at Broad

UPDATED: July 28, 2014, at 11:48 a.m.

Philanthropist Ted Stanley has pledged to give a record-breaking $650 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to fund psychiatric disorders research, the institute’s Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research announced on Tuesday.

The donation is the largest ever given for psychiatric research, according to the institute’s press release, and promises to put the Cambridge-based biological research foundation on stable footing for years to come.

The announcement of Stanley’s donation coincided with the release of a study on schizophrenia, based on research done at the Stanley Center, which was founded after receiving a $100 million gift from Ted and Vada Stanley in 2007. Stanley said the study was a contributing factor in his latest gift.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature, found 108 regions in “the human genome in which genetic variation shapes people’s risk of schizophrenia,” according to Steven A. McCarroll, the director of genetics for the Center and an author of the paper.

McCarroll, who also serves as an assistant professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, called the gift “a recognition of initial progress.”

“A decade ago, people were quite discouraged about the lack of progress in the science in this field,” McCarroll said. “Today, I think there’s reason to be rather excited.”

Mental illnesses are only accessible to researchers through new understandings of genetics. With the discovery of 108 regions in the genome associated with schizophrenia, more than 70 of which had not been found before, progress in the study of mental illnesses seems more attainable than ever, those involved with the center say.

“Human genomics has begun to reveal the causes of these disorders,” said Stanley, the founder and chairman of MBI, a company that sells collectibles, in the Broad Institute’s press release. “We still have a long way to go, but for the first time we can point to specific genes and biological processes. It’s now time to step on the gas pedal.”

Stanley’s donation will help scientists do so, according to McCarroll.

“This kind of commitment makes it possible to take risks...to design projects that are high-risk but would be transformational if they succeed,” McCarroll said.

The topic of mental health is personal for Stanley. His son, Jonathan, suffered from severe bipolar disorder, but a lithium treatment allowed him to overcome his illness and eventually become a successful attorney.

Stanley said that the collaborative nature of the Broad Institute, which was founded just a decade ago but brings together researchers from Harvard, MIT, and five Harvard-affiliated hospitals, helped motivate his donations.

With the announcement, Stanley, who is 84, has committed to annual gifts in the tens of millions of dollars, and the remainder of his gift will be paid after his death, according to Haley Bridger, manager of science communications and media relations at the Broad Institute.

—Staff writer Tyler S. Olkowski can be reached at tyler.olkowski@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @OlkowskiTyler.

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