Inspired By Family Illness, Philanthropist Gives $650 Million For Psychiatric Research

The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT  summer student Lydia Emerson and aesearch associate Aldo Amaya. (Courtesy/Kelly Davidson Photography)

Researchers at the Broad Institute plan to use Ted Stanley’s money to catalog all the genetic variations that contribute to severe psychiatric disorders. (Courtesy/Kelly Davidson Photography)

BOSTON — In the largest-ever donation to psychiatric research, Connecticut businessman Ted Stanley is giving $650 million to the Eli and Edythe Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The goal — to find and treat the genetic underpinnings of mental illnesses — was inspired by a family experience.

Ted Stanley made his fortune in the collectibles business. He founded The Danbury Mint, a company (later MBI, Inc.) whose first product was a series of medals commemorating the biggest scientific achievement of its time: the moon landing in 1969. While his business grew, his son Jonathan Stanley grew up as a normal Connecticut kid. Until, at age 19, Jonathan came down with bipolar disorder with psychosis, which got worse over the next three years.

“We’ll call it the epiphany from my dad’s standpoint at least,” Jonathan Stanley remembered of the turning point in his illness. “I went three days straight running through the streets of New York, no food, no water, no money, running from secret agents. And not surprisingly, after I stripped naked in a deli, ended up in a psychiatric facility.”

Jonathan was a college junior at the time.

“My dad came to visit, and he got to see his beloved son in a straitjacket,” Jonathan Stanley said.

The Stanleys were lucky. Jonathan responded well to the lithium, then a newly-approved drug. He went on to graduate from college and law school, too. Yet along the way, his father had met other fathers whose sons did not respond to treatment. He met other families who had to keep living with uncontrolled mental illness.

Ted Stanley said that gave him a focus for his philanthropy.

There was something out there that our son could take, and it made the problem go away,” he said. “And I’d like to see that happen for a lot of other people. And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

What he’s doing is donating $650 million, the bulk of his fortune, to the Broad Institute in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. It’s an independent, nonprofit partnership of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Harvard’s five teaching hospitals.

Institute founding director Eric Lander wants to begin using Ted Stanley’s money to catalog all the genetic variations that contribute to severe psychiatric disorders. He said the Broad Institute has already collected the DNA from 116,000 psychiatric patients.

“Once you have the specific genes,” Lander said, “you can then accelerate the biological study of how they function together in pathways. That’s the really important step, and that’s the key next step.”

In an article out this week in the journal Nature, Broad researchers helped find 108 sites in the human genome associated with the risk of developing schizophrenia. Lander said this sort of systematic research at a large scale is hard for scientists to do when they have to worry whether the next grant will come through.

“That’s what’s so exciting about this gift is a commitment to take on a disease in its real, full picture,” Lander said.

The former CEO who is funding the big new effort said a managed approach will do a better job of focusing on the customer: the patient.

“That’s not what happens in most medical research,” Ted Stanley said. “Nobody’s really in charge of making sure it helps families where brain dysfunction has ruined their lives.”

His son Jonathan Stanley is OK with his father shooting for the moon to try to treat mental illnesses.

“In a lot of rich families, a good chunk of this huge amount of money that’s going to Broad would have ended up in my bank account,” he said. “All I can say is, my family got it right.”

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  • Lawrence

    Yeah, more “research”. Let’s not forget:
    Another of Biederman’s Harvard ignoble disciples was Jeff Bostic, who is
    also at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was named in a 2009 lawsuit
    joined by the US Department of Justice alleging Forest Laboratories
    promoted its antidepressants for pediatric use without FDA approval and
    paid kickbacks to docs to encourage prescriptions. He received $750,000
    in payments for giving talks on using these drugs in children.

    • dust truck

      Don’t mind that, I’m protected cause I made this hat!
      From aluminum FOIL!
      Wear a hat that’s foil lined
      In case an alien’s inclined
      To probe your butt or read your mind.
      Looks a bit peculiar
      Seems a little crazy,
      But someday I’ll prove (I’ll prove, I’ll prove, I’ll prove)
      There’s a big conspiracy!

      • DigdotBlue

        Proof that dust Truck is in dire need of psychiatric treatment. Bullying, nothing to add but insults and name calling, thinks that is normal, believes he is immune from mental illness. Walks like a sociopath, quacks like a sociopath.

        • dust truck

          Not really into social media, eh? Meanwhile Lawrence see conspiracies everywhere and trolls these comments. And I’m the one in need of treatment?

          (Well, yes, I am, anyone who baits a troll needs their head examined. lol)

  • Dataninja

    Mental illness is not funny and definitely needs more research.

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  • Lawrence

    Great just what we need. Millions provided for psychiatric drug research so we can get even more people on these dangerous drugs.

    • dust truck

      Yes, because alcohol dependence is such a better solution for mental illness.

      • Lawrence

        So, jumping from one addiction to another is the “treatment” of your choice?

        • dust truck

          Totally missed the point, dude.

        • DigdotBlue

          generally psychiatric meds are not addictive, ALL alcohol is, but people who need medical help generally self medicate with alcohol to avoid social stigma, but that will backfire. Alcohol addiction is a mental illness as defined in the DSM and is treated with medications.

    • PCMacGuy49

      “These dangerous drugs.” It is more dangerous to be ‘off meds’ than to be treated with therapeutic levels of modern psychiatric medications properly prescribed and administered. Funding for mental illness research and the development of effective treatments is essential. Your cavalier attitude toward the the mentally ill is counter productive.

      • Lawrence

        Yes, agreed. It’s more dangerous to off these drugs if you have a mental condition that warrants it.

        The fact is that Big Pharm is making sure that as many people, kids especially are on as many as possible. And have you noticed that the overwhelming majority of shootings in schools, malls, and army bases involve those who were on these drugs??

        It forced Michale Moore to state that more investigation should have been made into the drugs these kids were on during the Columbine Massacre. Diane Sawyer was horrified when she did a story on how many kids under state control were on multiple drugs and when parents said no, there had their kids taken away.

        The abuse is rampant. The abuse is what I am referring to.

        • PCMacGuy49

          You are spot on – the abuse is rampant. When the state hospitals/mental
          institutions closed in the 60′s & 70′s, the dehospitalization of
          patients meant they would be maintained at large in society on the anti
          psychotic lithium, along with barbiturates and tranquilizers. Many
          became street people, off meds and a danger to themselves and others.
          Some mental health workers took advantage by diverting drugs for a
          profit to the burgeoning drug culture of the time. In these years I
          drove for Checker Taxi and volunteered at Boston’s Center Club.

          As a young man I saw first hand the
          soft underbelly of the city I was born in, and befriended several of the
          Club’s clients. They were among the lucky ones who had a place to go,
          and a support network to integrate them into society. Throwing money at a
          problem doesn’t solve it – commitment does. Let’s hope the cash is well spent and administered.

        • DigdotBlue

          I agree with you on this point Lawrence. You get one psych med, you get four more for the side effects and more for the side effects of the drugs for side effects and suddenly you are a zombie with diabetes and all sorts of serious physical side effects.
          I have sat in my doctor’s office many times to find that my appointment is often interrupted or delayed by drug reps.

          • Lawrence

            And the kid accused of murdering that teacher in Danvers and then again attacked another female a few days ago. He”s ON ANTIPSYCHOTICS!

            Can’t anyone see the pattern. Most prisoners and foster kids, anyone under state control are having these mind altering drugs. They even are pushing for prisoners to get drug coverage because they want them contiunally on drugs, compelled to by BIG Pharma who is behind all this with their billions.

          • dust truck

            Using an alt Lawrence? That’s sad.

  • Barbara Petrocelli

    At this moment I can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the Stanley family and the Demoulas family as regards their family wealth. In both cases I am sure the original individuals who build their respective businesses worked extremely hard and sacrificed to create enough wealth to pass on to future generations.

    Jonathan Stanley’s comments above and his support for his Dad’s decision to donate the bulk of his potential inheritance for research around mental heath are a stunning examples of how wealth can be used to do good.

    The Demoulas family in contrast is embarrassing and diminishing themselves with their “reality-TV-esk” public family fight over control and ultimately wealth resulting from their grocery store business. I am sure the original Demoulas brothers would be ashamed of how their children and grandchildren are at this moment shaming their family name and destroying their family business with their greedy, self absorbed display.

    It is a shame when greed and self interest overtake responsibility and the desire to do good among children who are lucky enough to inherit money, business or other asses from their parents and grandparents.

    • teacake56

      I think once the day to day struggle to keep a roof over your head and send the kids to college is out of the picture, family dynamics must move to the forefront of consciousness. And then, I conjecture, “Daddy always loved you best” becomes a monster. Still, Stanley has indeed done a wonderful thing here.

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