October 9, 1998
At a ceremony today, the Johns Hopkins Children's Center will dedicate the first pediatric research center designed to pinpoint links between severe mental illness and early childhood viral infections. Researchers in the new Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology plan to follow-up on theories connecting viruses to schizophrenia and manic-depressive (or bipolar) disorder. The Stanley center was established by a $2 million endowment from the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation, which donates an estimated $20 million annually for mental health research around the world.
At the dedication ceremony, Robert H. Yolken, M.D., will be named the division's first professor and chairman. The event takes place Friday, October 9, 1998, at 2:30 p.m., on the mezzanine level of the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center.
Yolken and his colleagues, have researched mental disorders for decades. They have identified several disease-related RNA sequences, possibly related to viruses, that appear only in people with these brain disorders. Many of these sequences are related to retroviruses, the viral family which also contains the agents causing AIDS and T-cell leukemia, says Yolken. Additionally, the researchers have identified viral infections in infants who subsequently developed schizophrenia later in life.
Currently, they are investigating the theory that a virus invades the brain and then lies dormant for years before triggering the onset of schizophrenia or manic depressive illness in adolescence and young adulthood.
"If this is the case," says Yolken, "antiviral medications or other methods might be developed to treat or prevent these conditions in some individuals. This would represent a major advance in limiting the heartbreak and social disruption suffered by families and individuals with these diseases."
The Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation previously donated $7 million to Johns Hopkins to support research and establish a laboratory in the Department of Pediatrics.
"Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are devastating diseases, both for those affected, and for their families," says Theodore Stanley. "These diseases have been neglected research-wise, and that is why we decided to spend our foundation money to help investigators learn more about possible causes and treatments."
"We are excited about the high quality of ongoing scientific discovery by Dr. Yolken and his colleagues under the Stanley Foundation aegis, and we look forward to major developments in the future," says George J. Dover, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
Theodore and Vada Stanley hail from Connecticut, where Theodore Stanley serves as the chief executive officer of MBI, Incorporated, which markets collectibles through subsidiaries such as the Danbury Mint and the Easton Press. The couple formed their foundation in 1989, after reading the book "Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual" by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., a former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health. The Stanley's began funding research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder through the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Research Institute, created under the advocacy group, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Torrey serves as executive director of both the Stanley Foundation Research Programs and the NAMI Research Institute. "No other pediatric laboratory is focusing on the role of viruses in mental disorders," says Torrey of the new medical division at Hopkins. "Dr. Yolken's work holds great promise."
Yolken is professor of pediatrics and former director of the Eudowood Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Since joining Hopkins in 1979, he has made key discoveries in the understanding of diarrheal disease, rotoviruses, HIV infection, gastroenteritis and schizophrenia.
He is the recipient of the Pan American Group for Rapid Diagnosis Viral Award, the Abbott Award in the Rapid Diagnosis of Human Disease from the American Society for Microbiology, and the E. Mead Johnson Award for Research in Pediatrics. A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where he also received his medical degree, Yolken later completed a residency in pediatrics at Yale-New Haven Medical Center and fellowships in pediatric hematology, oncology, and immunology at Cornell Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. ###
For more information contact: Michele McFarland or Wendy Mullins at 410-223-1724.
OF SPECIAL NOTE The 4th Symposium on the Neurovirology and Neuroimmunology of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder will be held November 4-7, 1998 at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel. Members of the press and researchers interested in the role that viruses may play in the etiology of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders will discuss the following:
- viral models of central nervous system functional pathology
- the effects of viruses on dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitters
- viruses as triggers for immune dysfunction leading to psychiatric morbidity
- molecular virology
- antiviral properties of antipsychotic drugs and other psychopharmacological aspects
- epidemiological aspects of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder
The symposium is sponsored by the Stanley Division of Developmental Neurovirology and the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation. There is no registration fee. For more information about the meeting, call 410-955-3271, or visit the Stanley Laboratory website at www.stanleylab.org. Members of the press should contact Michele McFarland or Wendy Mullins at 410-223-1724.