Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain
About Deeda Blair
This program is to support young researchers with exceptional promise who will explore creative new ideas and even high-risk disruptive research to accelerate new targets and innovative approaches to mental illness.”
-Deeda Blair, FNIH Board Member
With devotion, knowledge, and perseverance, Deeda Blair has been a catalyst for bold medical research and scientific breakthroughs for more than five decades. Her passion for biomedical research and global public health, combined with her unique ability to convene individuals from business and science to marshal resources and ideas, allows experts to tackle some of the world’s most critical health challenges. Her efforts have accelerated groundbreaking research and generated discoveries in the fields of AIDS, infectious disease, and cancer—work that is saving lives.
Deeda Blair’s extensive career has included serving as Vice President and Director Emeritus of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, Co-Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative International Advisory Council, and on numerous nonprofit boards. She currently serves on the FNIH Board of Directors as Secretary and Director. She has received many honors, including the degree of Doctor of Science Honoris Causa from Drexel University. To learn more, please see her bio.
Now Deeda Blair is building upon her work through the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain at the FNIH. This unprecedented initiative provides flexible, unrestricted funding to scientists to help them explore creative, even disruptive, new ideas that will accelerate advances in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.
The initiative has great personal meaning for Deeda, as it was established in memory of her son, William McCormick Blair, III. As a young man, William struggled with anxiety and depression and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2004, Deeda and her late husband lost William to suicide. Now, through the initiative, Deeda provides support for innovative research about disorders of the brain, creating hope for the millions of people worldwide who struggle with mental illness and also for their families.
About the Initiative
The Research Initiative was created to improve the diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illness, including mood disorders, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and psychotic disorders. The intention is to accelerate basic research to discover new targets and approaches for therapy with unrestricted and flexible funding. The collaborations it facilitates will have the potential to save lives and prevent great pain and suffering. The program is administered by the FNIH.
Unlike a typical grant program, these awards are determined by a Scientific Award Selection Committee of independent scientists and thinkers. Awardees are encouraged to develop novel ways of thinking about the brain. In addition to transforming what we already know, these individuals or groups will seek new approaches to change our basic understanding of mental illness. Though the focus of the program is mental illness, it may help in an understanding of the brain and of its other diseases.
Scientific Selection Committee
The following leaders from major scientific institutions, clinical practice and industry recommend rigorous and outstanding scientists for the awards.
- Samantha Boardman Rosen, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Assistant Attending Psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College
- Mark Daly, Ph.D., Co-Director, Program in Medical and Population Genetics, Broad Institute
- Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., D.H., Chen Professor of Bioengineering and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
- Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., President, Research & Development, uniQure
- Maria C. Freire, Ph.D., Principal, The Freire Group
- Paul Herrling, Ph.D., Retired Chairman, Novartis Institute for Tropical Disease; Professor Emeritus, University of Basel, Switzerland
- Thomas Insel, M.D., Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and President and Co-founder, Mindstrong Health
- Husseini Manji, M.D., Visiting Professor, Oxford University
- Andrew Solomon, Ph.D., Writer, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Columbia University Medical Center
- Bruce Stillman, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Selection criteria and process
- Awards will be granted to individuals of exceptional promise with a track record of innovative work. The Committee will identify and recommend such individuals.
- Awards will go to creative and imaginative individuals or groups who understand a perspective of mental health as a global public health problem. Their ideas may even be a challenge to the existing research in mental illness.
- Consideration will also be given to early-stage biotechnology companies where much innovation and translational research take place.
- Through this process, standard conflict of interest practices will be strictly observed.
2023 Research Initiative Awardees
The four 2023 awardees each receive $100,000.
- Neal Amin, MD, PhD, at Stanford University, for his proposal to develop a molecular differentiation atlas of the human brain with 3D stem cell models to investigate neurons implicated in psychiatric disorders
Our capacity to develop new treatments for psychiatric disorders is limited by an inability to biologically investigate living human neurons that are relevant to brain circuit dysfunction. This study will advance a systematic framework for human cellular brain research by applying machine learning and RNA coding in the cell to develop 3D stem cell models of the brain called organoids. The result will be a leap forward in our ability to investigate characteristics in human neuron types, including highly specialized cortical and subcortical neuronal subpopulations that might contribute to anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorders.
- Juliet Beni Edgcomb, MD, PhD, at University of California, Los Angeles, for her proposal to develop phenotype algorithms for the identification of childhood-onset serious mental illness in electronic health records using informatics and data science approaches
Current ability to predict and intervene before a child experiences severe mental illness is limited by the substantial developmental variation in clinical symptoms and signposts leading to illness across the age spectrum. This study seeks to improve the detection of high morbidity in mental illnesses (unipolar depression, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, psychosis) and suicide attempts by using cutting-edge computation to analyze characteristics in the electronic health records of 10- to 17-year-olds. The long-term goal is to accelerate advances in diagnosis and early intervention, and design more effective and targeted prevention efforts.
- Youngjung Kim, MD, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital, for her proposal to identify the molecular mechanisms of metabolic reprogramming in psychiatric illnesses through patient-derived cellular models
Recent genome-wide association studies have highlighted points of places in the brain associated with metabolism as key genetic vulnerabilities for psychiatric disorders, including mood disorders. This innovative proposal will leverage genome editing, a method for making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism in order to add, remove or alter the DNA in the genome. Genome editing cellular models derived from people who have an impaired ability to regulate and/or tolerate negative emotional states and healthy control individuals will enable us to develop a better understanding of the disease risk from genetic effects on metabolism. This understanding may help to inform more targeted treatments for a range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
- Jonathan Power, MD, PhD, at Weill Cornell Medical College, for his proposal to create precision functional brain mapping that informs circuit-guided transcranial magnetic stimulation to modulate human behavior
Afflictions such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are increasingly being treated with non-invasive brain stimulation, using tools like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Response to TMS treatment should depend on stimulating the right neural circuits, a population of neurons interconnected by synapses that carry out a specific function when activated. However, our scientific understanding of where particular circuits lie in an individual patient, and how specifically we can target a desired circuit, are both rudimentary. This project seeks to define circuits in individuals, and to test the limits of TMS specificity in activating particular brain circuits, paving the way for more precise, targeted applications of TMS in mental illness.
2021 Research Initiative Awards
The inaugural awards have had significant impact for the following clinician-scientists, enabling them to execute their innovative projects:
- Christopher Bartley, M.D., Ph.D., now at the National Institutes of Health, has improved existing immune profiling technology and used it to identify and novel autoantibodies associated with schizophrenia and determine precisely where these antibodies bind to proteins in the brain.
- Sarah Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., at Yale University, has used technology and pattern analysis to identify and validate early relationship ruptures in borderline personality disorder.
- David Ross, M.D., Ph.D., at the National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative, and now at the University of Alberta, has worked to transform the medical educational model, creating tools to help psychiatrists and other mental health professionals integrate cutting-edge neuroscience into clinical practice, and ultimately provide better care to patients.
FNIH Announcement (January 31, 2023): FNIH Announces Second Round of Awards by the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain
FNIH Press Release (May 4, 2021): The FNIH Launches the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain, Announces First Awards
How to add your support to this initiative
Thank you very much for your kind interest in supporting the Deeda Blair Research Initiatives for Disorders of the Brain through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). The tax identification number is 52-1986675.
There are many ways to support the Research Initiative:
Send a Check: Write the check to “Foundation for the NIH” and please note that the gift is designated for “The Deeda Blair Research Initiative.” Mailing instructions are below:
|Mail to:||Foundation for the National Institutes of Health
Attention: Laren Friedman
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North Bethesda, MD 20852
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If you have any questions or would like to further discuss your gift, please contact FNIH Advancement Officer Laren Friedman at (301) 451-8855 or firstname.lastname@example.org