Message from the Chairman

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January 29, 2013

Dear Contributor,

2012 was an extraordinary year for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. With our first NARSAD Grants having been awarded in 1987, the year marked 25 years of progressive funding for brain and behavior research to identify the causes, improve treatments and develop prevention strategies for mental illness.

At the close of the year, we welcomed Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein as our new Acting President and CEO. Dr. Borenstein joined the Foundation as Chief Medical Officer in November, and at year end was appointed Acting President. Benita Shobe left the presidency after her three-year employment.

Dr. Borenstein brings a wealth of administrative and mental health experience to the role. After completing his undergraduate degree at Harvard and his medical degree at New York University, he focused on psychiatric practice and served as the CEO and Medical Director of Holliswood Hospital. He went on to develop the public television program ‘Healthy Minds,’ and serves as host of the series. The program, which is broadcast nationwide, focuses on topics in psychiatry in order to educate the public, reduce stigma and offer a message of hope. Dr. Borenstein is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychiatric News, the newspaper of the American Psychiatric Association and serves as an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia.

Our fundraising results in 2012 would have been similar to that of 2011 but for one extraordinary exception. The Foundation received a bequest of over $30 million—the single largest gift in its 25-year history—from the estate of Oliver D. Colvin, Jr. We have renamed our Annual Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorders Research in his honor, reflecting our understanding of his specific concerns and interests. Mr. Colvin’s extraordinary generosity and support of our mission is enabling an acceleration of the NARSAD Grants program.

NARSAD Young Investigator Grant applications reached an all-time high of 1,320 in 2012. The Scientific Council noted the exceptional quality of a large majority of the applicants’ proposals— ultimately 202 projects were funded at $60,000 each. For NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants, 225 applications were received and 15 outstanding research projects selected for funding at $100,000 each. Dr. Jack Barchas, Chief of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell, headed the Selection Committee of the Scientific Council and commented, “The portfolio of Awards is exciting and impressive in its depth and possibilities for important and transforming discoveries. We could easily justify funding a far greater number.” NARSAD Independent Investigator Grants will be selected and voted upon at the February meeting of the Board of Directors.

Among many significant Foundation-funded developments published in articles in psychiatric and medical journals (see 2012 Highlights), one to highlight is the work of Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Deisseroth used his NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 2005 to develop a new technology he has termed ‘optogenetics,’ that enables precise control of neural activity in awake animals. The technology is now being used by thousands of researchers around the world to identify the mechanisms that give rise to depression, anxiety and other brain and behavior disorders. In June 2012, Biological Psychiatry dedicated an entire issue to “Optogenetics and the Translational Neuroscience of Psychiatry.” In commentary for this issue, Dr. Thomas R. Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and Michelle Freund wrote, “It has been said that scientific progress depends more on new technologies than new concepts. In truth, it is often new technologies that generate new concepts. For systems neuroscience, optogenetics has been unquestionably the hottest technology developed in the past seven years.”

At our Annual Gala Awards Dinner and Symposium in New York City, we celebrated 25 years of grant giving and featured eight outstanding scientific achievement prizewinners. We further provided two Productive Lives Awards in recognition of outstanding dedication to improve the lives of those with mental illness. Judge Steven Leifman of Miami, Florida, spoke of transforming the legal system so that those with mental illness are recognized and treated rather than convicted and imprisoned. Dr. Alice Medalia spoke of her career work in rehabilitation and recovery for patients with a range of brain and behavior disorders.

We presented a forum on a broad range of mental health topics for women in September. The all-day event in New York City offered talks on the latest in research and treatment, and featured presentations by world-renowned mental health leaders who are either Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Members or former NARSAD Grantees. Other events broadening our communications efforts included a series of webinars with a virtual ‘Meet the Scientist’ question and answer format.

Our publications program under the leadership of Laura Wells continues to achieve a broadening recognition for its insights, both in the lives of patients and their families and the achievements of scientific research. These communications were supplemented by new website coverage and an increase in the frequency of email communications.

We again have the privilege of welcoming new Scientific Council members. Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D.; Elizabeth Gould, Ph.D.; Francis S. Lee, Ph.D.; Richard J. Miller, M.D., Ph.D.; Bernardo Sabatini, M.D., Ph.D.; and Mark von Zastrow, M.D., Ph.D. have joined, bringing the Scientific Council to 138 volunteer members. The Council is unparalleled in its expertise and commitment to the field, and is essential to the organization’s ability to achieve breakthroughs in brain and behavior research.

During the year, we also welcomed new members to our Board of Directors. They include J. Anthony Boeckh of Montreal, Robert E. Weisman, Esq. of Palm Beach and Greenwich, Carol Mallement of New York and Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte, NC.

In summary, 2012 was a commemoration of 25 years of leadership in supporting mental health research. We now look forward to 2013 as a year of expansion under the leadership of Dr. Borenstein, and with the continued commitment and effort of our staff, which we intend to augment. We plan to further the  long-planned development program which will allow us to increase the number of research grants, as well as to increase the amount of each award. Expanding our effort is increasingly urgent as we experience the contraction of government research financing and the shrinkage of medical, and particularly psychiatric, research by the pharmaceutical industry.

Our sustained progress would not be possible without your support. Thank you for your continued commitment.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen A. Lieber
Stephen A. Lieber
Chairman of the Board