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Major Gift Will Endow a Program Devoted to a Fuller Understanding of How the Human Brain Works

February 05, 2020
by Robert Forman

A major gift to Yale will create an endowment to establish a program at Yale School of Medicine devoted to basic research to understand the higher-order capacity and functioning of the human brain. James A. Lawrence, YC ’74, and Mary Gilbert Lawrence, MPH ’98, MD, are funding the endowment in memory of their son, Thomas, who entered Yale College with the Class of 2019 but took his life in 2018 after battling bipolar disorder for nearly five years. The announcement of the gift is being made on what would have been Thomas’s 24th birthday.

The Thomas Kingsley Lawrence ’19 Program in Brain Research will take a multifaceted approach to understanding the higher-order functionality of the human brain and related areas, including support for senior tenured faculty as well as early-career investigators to undertake high-risk, high-reward research initiatives. A portion of the funding will also endow a Lawrence Family Professorship in Brain Research to be held by a distinguished scientist in these areas.

The fundamental hoped-for outcome will be a more comprehensive understanding of how the human brain works, especially focused on the higher-order functions of the mind. With the knowledge gained, novel prevention strategies, diagnostics, and therapeutics to reduce the incidence, prevalence, and recurrence of psychiatric disorders will be possible.

“We want investigators supported by this program to develop and perform research in neuroscience, genetics, and related areas that goes beyond standard limits on what is believed to be possible,” says Mary Lawrence. “We are convinced that daring approaches, even if some of them fail, are the best path to ultimate success,” adds Jim Lawrence.

“We are grateful to Mary and Jim Lawrence for endowing this visionary program, and for the confidence they place in the talent and ingenuity of Yale scientists,” adds Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine. “What a fitting tribute it is to Thomas Kingsley Lawrence that his memory will serve as a catalyst for important scientific and clinical advances in our understanding of how the human brain functions.”

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly 3% of U.S. adults had bipolar disorder in the past year, and more than 4% experience it at some time in their lives. More than 17 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in the most recent reporting year (2017). Nearly one in five adults suffered from anxiety disorder, and 23% of those had serious impairment.

Submitted by Robert Forman on February 04, 2020