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$10 million gift bolsters psychosis research efforts

Jun. 13, 2019, 9:20 AM

Stephan Heckers, MD, MSc, said the gift will allow VUMC to map the trajectory of psychosis.
Stephan Heckers, MD, MSc, said the gift will allow VUMC to map the trajectory of psychosis. (photo by John Russell)

by Kelsey Herbers

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences has received a $10 million endowed gift to fund translational research, support clinical programs and create an endowed chair within the department.

As a family member of a loved one with schizophrenia, the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous so the focus remains on the patients and new treatments, is energized by the potential of developing early treatments to slow or prevent psychosis from reaching more critical stages.

“Seeing firsthand the devastation of the effects that these diseases have on not just the individual, but the whole family, I believe we need to try anything possible to help alleviate the pain of these experiences,” said the donor. “We keep hoping that something will come along that helps slow the progression of psychotic disorders. If we can work with patients through their first episodes so we can hopefully prevent future ones, that will be the key to improving lives.”

The donor made the gift to help other families find answers as they struggle through the challenges of learning a loved one has a psychotic disorder and finding viable treatment options. The early days can be difficult.

“The burden of psychosis ripples through families as uncertainty and difficulty alter the fabric of life. We are grateful for the pivotal generosity that will ensure other people, and their families, are supported and better understood as they tackle treatment. This gift will reverberate for decades to come,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Because the gift is endowed, the perpetual funding will secure the future of behavioral health research at Vanderbilt.

“We are already providing clinical care to many patients during their first episode of psychosis. This transformational gift now allows us to map the trajectory of psychosis,” said Stephan Heckers, MD, MSc, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “The outstanding translational research environment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the ideal place to realize the vision of our donor.”

The gift will allow researchers to engage and track patients for longer periods of time, enabling longitudinal research studies that could otherwise not be accomplished. Through enhanced assessments, increased medication monitoring and earlier interventions, the team at Vanderbilt hopes to gain insight into what determines positive and negative treatment outcomes and to extend the lives of people with psychotic disorders, which are associated with a shortened life expectancy.

“We are extremely grateful to the donor for making this translational research possible. The donor’s vision will impact many patients at Vanderbilt and will greatly advance our research agenda,” said Heckers.

For more information on giving to VUMC, contact 615-936-0230 or giving@vumc.org.

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