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Ted Stanley, Who Donated Hundreds Of Millions For Mental Illness Research, Dies

Ted Stanley is seen in a YouTube video screenshot from the Broad Institute. Stanley has died at the age of 85.

Ted Stanley is seen in a YouTube video screenshot from the Broad Institute. Stanley has died at the age of 85.

Ted Stanley, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist who donated more than $825 million to support research on mental illness, has died at his home in Connecticut. He was 85.

Stanley’s 2014 donation of $650 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard was billed as “the largest ever donation toward psychiatric research.”

At the time, WBUR’s Curt Nickisch reported that Stanley’s donation to find and treat the genetic underpinnings of mental illness had a personal side: Stanley’s son, Jonathan, suffered from bipolar disorder.

Here’s a bit of Nickisch’s story:

CURT NICKISCH: Ted Stanley founded a company whose first product was a series of medals commemorating the biggest scientific achievement of its time – the moon landing in 1969. While his collectibles business grew, his son Jonathan Stanley grew up a normal Connecticut kid, until, at age 19, Jonathan came down with bipolar disorder with psychosis, which got worse over the next three years.

JONATHAN STANLEY: We’ll call it the epiphany from my dad’s standpoint at least. 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.

NICKISCH: Jonathan was a college junior.

J. STANLEY: My dad came to visit and got to see his beloved son in a straitjacket.

NICKISCH: The Stanleys were lucky. Jonathan responded well to the drug lithium. He went on to graduate from college and then law school too. Meanwhile, his father had met other fathers whose sons did not respond to treatment – other families who had to keep living with uncontrolled mental illness. Ted Stanley says that gave him a focus for his philanthropy.

TED STANLEY: There was something out there that our son could take and it made the problem go away. 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.

NICKISCH: The $650 million donation represents the bulk of his fortune. The Broad Institute is a partnership of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Harvard’s five teaching hospitals. Its head, Eric Lander, wants to begin using Ted Stanley’s money to catalog all the genetic variations that contribute to severe psychiatric disorders. He says the Broad has already collected the DNA from 100,000 psychiatric patients.

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From 2014:

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)

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.”

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Harvest Of ‘1,000 Genomes’ Begins

A decade after all the hype and hoopla surrounding the launch of the Human Genome Project, it’s fashionable these days to be somewhat disappointed by genomics. (Am tempted here to make a comparison with Obama supporters, but let’s leave politics out of it.)

The New York Times headline was “A Decade Later, Genetic Map Yields Few New Cures” and in Scientific American this month it’s “Revolution Postponed: Why The Human Genome Project Has Been Disappointing.” Even those fun little personal genomics companies like 23andMe, run by the wife of a Google founder, are having trouble attracting customers, the Times reports.

But at the same time, many scientists say that the genome project has transformed biology forever. And the fact is that every week sees new reports of cool new gene findings — Ozzy Osbourne’s genome reveals Neandertal lineage!! — even if they don’t lead quickly and easily to cures. Take, for example, today’s news out of the Broad Institute, the genomics powerhouse in Cambridge.

It reports that the “1,000 Genomes Project,” a hugely collaborative international project budgeted at $120 million, has just published in the journal Nature the most comprehensive map yet of how genes vary from person to person. The map — actually based on just several hundred peoples’ genes so far, but soon to include 2,500 — is “estimated to contain approximately 95 percent of the genetic variation of any person on Earth,” the Broad says.

The improved map produced some surprises. For example, the researchers discovered that on average, each person carries between 250 and 300 genetic changes that would cause a gene to stop working normally, and that each person also carried between 50 and 100 genetic variations that had previously been associated with an inherited disease. Continue reading