Meet the New Director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research

The Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research was created in 2007 by a grant from the Stanley Medical Research Institute. (See Stanley Medical Research Institute: Grants for Mental Health.) The Stanley Center falls under the purview of the Broad Institute and, in fact, incorporates the former Psychiatric Disease Program at the institute.

The Stanley Center aims to fight psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, primarily by finding better treatments. The center's research focuses on the genetics of these diseases, and its former director, Edward Scolnick, was a big part of that focus. Scolnick was once a vice president at Merck, and before that worked at the National Cancer Institute looking into the genetic origins of cancer. He even worked at the National Heart Institute, again investigating the genetic origins of heart disease.

But after five years at the helm, Scolnick has been succeeded by Steve Hyman, the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), where he served for five years. Perhaps more interesting is Hyman's work as provost of Harvard University, a post he held for a decade starting in 2001. He led a reform of the Harvard Library that promoted technological innovation and open access, a big shift for the library system.

Hyman and the Stanley Center are especially focused on the stagnation that has seized the world of mental-disorder treatment over the past decade. In an interview, Hyman explains that pharmaceutical companies have begun pulling out of the development of drugs to treat psychiatric diseases. "They don't believe there's an animal model of schizophrenia or depression that would predict the efficacy of a new class of drugs."

Although current treatments for these disorders are sufficient, many have side effects and symptoms that patients find intolerable. And given the lack of appetite for additional drug development in the private sector, Hyman believes that the world of philanthropy has to step up. And, he believes, genes are the key.

Asked about the variety of positions he's held, Hyman gets idealistic:

I think this is what I should be doing. This is what I believe in — these kinds of interdisciplinary institutions in engagement with the private sector. To be surrounded by such brilliant young people is an enormous tonic. One of the reasons I'm so interested in these disorders is because these are the great destroyers of human potential.