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News: May 2014

The unique history of innovation that sets McLean Hospital apart from most freestanding psychiatric hospitals.

Freestanding psychiatric hospitals sometimes find their reputations entwined in a history of tried-and-true traditional intervention, with cutting-edge research taking a backseat. But at McLean Hospital a history of innovation sets the institution apart. “McLean is one of the first institutions in the United States to focus on brain chemistry as a way to understand serious mental illness. It's that commitment and foundation, well over 100 years old, that propels McLean always into the future,” says Joseph Coyle, MD, McLean's Chief Scientific Officer. Though a core of Partners HealthCare, affiliated with Massachusetts General Hospital and a major teaching facility for Harvard Medical School, McLean is considered a private psychiatric hospital with an independent research program. Basic and clinical investigators on the McLean campus perform more than $40 million a year of extramurally funded research in neuroscience and psychiatry, making the institution the largest scientific enterprise among private psychiatric hospitals in the United States. “We are fundamentally dedicated to our tripartite mission, spanning care, research and education. Moreover, we are committed to leading the field through excellence and innovation ,” notes Scott Rauch, MD, Chair of Partners Psychiatry and Mental Health, and President and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at McLean. In 2013, McLean was named America's #1 Hospital for Psychiatry by U.S. News & World Report. The hospital's research portfolio spans a broad array of psychiatric illnesses and includes an even balance of basic and clinical research. By its very nature, the campus provides a unique opportunity for scientists to observe the clinical realities of the disorders they study. “The balance of our investment across basic and clinical research is rare, even in other top academic psychiatry departments. Often they are skewed toward more clinical research; basic research, is more commonly found in neuroscience departments, distant from the clinical mission,” says Dr. Rauch. “The fact that we have this balance—not only in a psychiatry department, but in a freestanding psychiatric hospital—is very special.” The institution is home to the Harvard Brain Bank, a freestanding brain imaging facility, a nonhuman primate research facility, and a Varian 9.4T small bore animal magnet. “We have a wealth of resources that you would normally expect to find in either a very large academic medical center or an academic department of neuroscience, all on our one little campus,” Dr. Rauch says. Clinical trials are bolstered by on-site brain imaging to demonstrate the effects of novel interventions for various psychiatric disorders in patients. Elsewhere on campus, researchers study genetic models and experimental animals to unveil each disorder's molecular mechanisms. “This provides a unique environment, not only for developing a better understanding of the disorders but also for coming up with novel treatments,” Dr. Coyle notes. A team of investigators is currently exploring novel therapies for depression, including kappa receptor antidepressants. Scott Lukas, PhD, has received international acclaim for his work showing that the herb kudzu can reduce alcohol consumption. Other McLean researchers are exploring innovative treatments for schizophrenia that work on the NMDA receptor. The hospital's continuum of care offers evidence-based dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder and self-injurious behaviors, and subspecialty residential programs to introduce innovative treatments to adolescents and young adult patients. “Part of what makes McLean special is our capacity to deliver on the promise of translation in psychiatry,” says Dr. Rauch. “On a campus where we provide such a wealth and diversity of clinical services, we have scientists working shoulder-to-shoulder with our clinicians. We are one team working to improve the lives of people and families affected by psychiatric illness”.