Giovanna Truong

A new donation by Yale alumni will promote neuroscience research at the School of Medicine.

James Lawrence ’74 and Mary Lawrence MPH ’98 created a new endowment for brain research in honor of their son, Thomas Kingsley Lawrence, who would have graduated in the class of 2019 but took his own life after a long battle with bipolar disorder. The endowment will be used to create the Thomas Kingsley Lawrence ’19 Program in Brain Research and to establish the Lawrence Family Professorship in Brain Research.

“This is a remarkable and generous gift that will directly facilitate the research of the faculty member who holds the professorship,” said Michael Crair, the newly-appointed vice provost for research at the School of Medicine. “The research program is expected to be multifaceted, with some attention paid to basic mechanisms of disease, as well as the development of novel strategies for disease prevention or therapeutic treatments.”

The program’s logistics will be overseen by the dean’s office at the School of Medicine. The school will soon appoint a director for the program. Director of the Mood Disorders Research Program Hilary Blumberg told the News that the donation comes at a critical time for the field.

“Research in this area is critically needed, [it] could literally save lives,” Blumberg emphasized. “The Mood Disorders Research Program focuses on understanding the brain circuitry of bipolar disorder, suicide and translating basic neurobiology into treatment and prevention in adolescents.”

The Mood Disorders Research Program is one of many initiatives that will benefit from the new endowment. The program will spearhead an initiative to bring faculty and students together in an interdisciplinary approach to studying mood disorders, with a focus on bipolar disorder and suicide. Blumberg’s lab focuses on the relationship between brain structure and the development of suicidal tendencies.

“We have found that there is an important link between bipolar disorder in adolescence and the neurobiology of suicidal behaviors,” said Blumberg. “That’s important because we can then develop targets for prevention for people at risk.”

Blumberg said she is also hopeful that these findings will help with treatment. This would include using brain scanning to see how sleep and other daily rhythms affect brain circuitry and suicide risk.

According to Crair, the endowment will also include funding for a professorship, which will permit the faculty involved to “oversee a program that catalyzes the research of junior faculty in the area and the development of new therapies or diagnostics for brain disorders.”

In a statement to the News, Dean Nancy Brown stated that the School of Medicine is “very excited about this major gift from Jim and Mary Lawrence in memory of their son.”

The statement also noted that the program will provide support for early-career investigators and teams who undertake “high-risk, high-reward research initiatives” in the field. The School of Medicine aims to use the donation to fund innovative research that would not otherwise happen.

“Our hope is that the knowledge generated will lead to novel prevention strategies, diagnostics, and therapeutics,” wrote Brown.

In 2023, the Yale-New Haven Hospital will open a new neuroscience building for both treatment and research.

Beatriz Horta | beatriz.horta@yale.edu