Recently it was announced in the New York Times that Ted Stanley, age 84, has donated $650 million for psychiatric research. The reason for his generous grant is that his son, Jonathan Stanley, had a psychotic episode in 1988 and was lucky enough to receive effective treatment after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The older Stanley marvels at the difference in treatment between the time he was a young man and the treatment his son received:
“My son’s life was saved.” When he himself was in college, “those drugs didn’t exist; I would have had a nonfunctioning brain all the rest of my life.”
Stanley, who earned a fortune selling collectibles, created the Stanley Family Foundation to support psychiatric research. The Broad Institute, a biomedical research center, received the grant, stating that it’s one of the largest private gifts ever received for scientific research. The timing of the grant is important because despite decades of research, experts have learned virtually nothing new about the causes of psychiatric disorders and have developed no new drug treatments in more than 25 years.
The Broad Institute hopes that Mr. Stanley’s donation will change that and they timed their announcement to coincide with the publication of the largest study to date of the genetics of schizophrenia. To understand the underlying biology of psychiatric disorders, Broad researchers “plan to grow neurons with mutations in the genes they have discovered, to see how they differ from normal cells. They will engineer mice with some of the mutations to see how their brains are affected. The scientists hope these experiments will lead them to hypotheses about the biology underlying psychiatric disorders — which they will test by giving mice drugs that target specific molecules in the brain.”
Like most people who suffer from a brain disorder, Mr. Stanley’s son, Ted, does not know what initially caused his bipolar disorder but he has been stabilized on lithium since his diagnosis. He was able to return to college, get a law degree, and practices today as an attorney.
I was impressed with Ted Stanley’s vision and generosity. He understands the substantial cost that scientific research requires and he made the decision to make the grant for psychiatric research last year after his wife died. He realized that his initial gift to Broad Institute was not enough and he wanted them to have sufficient funds after he died.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people felt so strongly about the need for the care of the mentally ill that they would leave their fortune, large or small, to mental health research?