Medicine

$10 million gift aimed at improving treatments for mental illness

(Photo: Courtesy of the Taylor Family)

Philanthropists Andrew and Barbara Taylor and the Crawford Taylor Foundation have committed $10 million to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to continue research to investigate the scientific underpinnings of psychiatric illnesses, with the goal of improving diagnosis and treatment.

The new gift will support the Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research, established in 2012 at the School of Medicine with a $20 million gift from the Taylors.

“Our family has experienced mental illness, and that’s one reason why it’s important for us to make a difference in this area,” said Andrew Taylor, a life trustee of Washington University and chair of Leading Together, the university’s successful capital campaign that recently concluded and raised $3.378 billion. “It’s tremendously exciting to think that our contributions to the Taylor Family Institute could help people around the globe.”

The World Health Organization estimates that psychiatric disorders — such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia — affect more than 80 million Americans and roughly 25 percent of people around the world. But despite how common the disorders are, few drugs provide effective treatments.

“Washington University is extraordinarily fortunate to have the support of the Taylor Family,” said Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Researchers at the Taylor Family Institute are working to develop new treatments for a range of often debilitating conditions, and much of this work would not be possible without the Taylors’ generosity and determination to effect needed change.”

The Taylor Family Institute’s focus on developing new, more effective therapies for psychiatric disorders is rooted in a stark reality. Although existing medications are helpful to many, a number of such therapies demonstrate limited effectiveness and come with wide-ranging side effects, such as weight gain and sleep problems. And approved psychiatric drugs aren’t designed to target the fundamental mechanisms in the brain that underlie illness.

“This gift further underscores the Taylor family’s commitment to advancing psychiatric research and their desire to bring hope and healing to those suffering from mental illness,” said Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin. “We are deeply grateful for their generosity and for the trust they have placed in the scientists at the Taylor Family Institute at Washington University.”

In the past six years, scientists at the institute have developed sophisticated tools to study how particular brain chemicals — called neurosteroids and oxysterols — alter brain function and play a role in regulating cognition, emotion and motivation. That work has been important in identifying new drugs that target brain cell receptors affected by these chemicals.

Read more.