A cause close to home inspires a gift with universal reach

To combat mood disorders, a new professorship and seminal research

Hope Furth and her husband John, of the Yale College Class of ’52, are passionate about advancing understanding of developing brains because of their devotion to children’s causes and excitement about emerging science. But their strongest motivation is even closer to home.

Searching for information that would help two of their grandchildren with special needs, they met the School of Medicine’s Hilary Blumberg, M.D., professor of psychiatry, of diagnostic radiology, and in the Child Study Center, and director of Yale’s Mood Disorders Research Program. “We were terribly impressed by the research that she’s doing,” said John Furth. “Hilary is looking for answers to the questions that most concern us: What is the cause of very serious mental and emotional problems in children? And how do we develop effective treatments?”

In December the Furths created the John and Hope Furth Professorship of Psychiatric Neuroscience with a $3 million gift. Blumberg has been named the inaugural Furth Professor.

“This is a partnership between people with a passion for knowledge and a belief that it can improve lives,” said Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “The Furths’ vision advances neurodevelopmental psychiatry and promises to make a tremendous difference for people with mood disorders.”

Researchers like Blumberg have brought psychiatry to a “transitional moment,” said John H. Krystal, M.D., the Robert L. McNeil Jr. Professor of Translational Research and chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

The field historically made diagnoses based on behaviors and treated symptoms, but the underlying biology of psychiatric disorders remained largely a mystery. “At a time when bipolar disorder in youth was identified as a major unaddressed public health problem, Hilary Blumberg was the first to identify structural and functional brain differences in adolescents with bipolar disorder,” Krystal says.

Blumberg’s research explores the development in adolescence and young adulthood of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and depression. She also studies these disorders across the lifespan and the associated risk of suicide. She employs multiple brain scanning techniques to study brain circuitry abnormalities.

Blumberg received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard. She earned her M.D. at Cornell Weill Medical College, where she also completed her residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in psychiatry with a focus on neuroimaging. She joined Yale School of Medicine’s faculty in 1998.

In 1999 Blumberg was one of the first to demonstrate differences in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex during mania in adults with bipolar disorder. In 2003 she was the first researcher to demonstrate differences in the brain in adolescents with bipolar disorder. Blumberg and her research team have since continued to make pioneering contributions to our understanding of brain circuitry in mood and related disorders, identifying risk factors such as genes and early life stress, and developing new interventions to prevent suffering from symptoms and suicide.

“Our long-term hope is that these disorders will be diagnosed earlier for more effective treatment,” John Furth says. “We’re both just thrilled that we can do this.”

The Furth family has a strong tradition of supporting Yale. John is a frequent gift chair for Yale College reunions, is a Class Award recipient, and serves on the Class of 1952 Council. He has served on the Urban Advisory Committee, the Yale Development Board, and the Yale Tomorrow executive committee, and is a member of Yale Legacy Partners and Sterling Fellows. The Furths were instrumental in the creation and growth of the Yale President’s Public Service Fellowships. In 1992 they created the John L. and Hope L. Furth Fund for the Public Service Fellowship. They have also supported Yale College, renovations of Silliman College, and bipolar disorder research at the School of Medicine.

John Furth established a charitable remainder trust for the Department of Psychiatry in 2012 in honor of his 40th reunion. He is vice chairman of the financial firm Peter B. Cannell & Co. After graduating Yale College, he served in the U.S. military in Korea and was awarded the Bronze Star. A strong interest in children’s welfare has guided his extensive charitable work.

Hope Furth is the former chair of mathematics at Rye Country Day School. A past member of the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board, she has served as chair of the White Plains Library and as treasurer of the Westchester County Library System.

Related People

John Krystal

Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research and Professor of Psychiatry and of Neuroscience

Robert Alpern

Ensign Professor of Medicine (Nephrology)

Hilary Blumberg

John and Hope Furth Professor of Psychiatric Neuroscience and Professor of Psychiatry, and in the Child Study Center and of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging