At a ceremony today, the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center will dedicate the
first pediatric research center designed to pinpoint links between severe mental illness
and early childhood viral infections. Researchers in the new Stanley Division of
Developmental Neurovirology plan to follow-up on theories, connecting viruses to
schizophrenia and manic-depressive (or bipolar) disorder. The Stanley center was
established by a $2 million endowment from the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation, which
donates an estimated $20 million annually for mental health research around the world.
At the dedication ceremony, Robert H. Yolken, M.D., was named the
Division’s first professor and chairman.
Yolken and his colleagues, have researched mental disorders for decades.
They have identified several disease-related RNA sequences, possibly related to
viruses, that appear only in people with these brain disorders. Many of these
sequences are related to retroviruses, the viral family which also contains the agents
causing AIDS and T-cell leukemia, says Yolken. Additionally, the researchers have
identified viral infections in infants who subsequently developed schizophrenia later in
Currently, they are investigating the theory that a virus invades the
brain and then lies dormant for years before triggering the onset of schizophrenia or
manic depressive illness in adolescence and young adulthood.
“If this is the case,” says Yolken, “antiviral medications
or other methods might be developed to treat or prevent these conditions in some
individuals. This would represent a major advance in limiting the heartbreak and
social disruption suffered by families and individuals with these diseases.”
The Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation previously donated $7 million to
Johns Hopkins to support research and establish a laboratory in the Department of
“Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are devastating diseases, both
for those affected, and for their families,” says Theodore Stanley. “These
diseases have been neglected research-wise, and that is why we decided to spend our
foundation money to help investigators learn more about possible causes and
“We are excited about the high quality of ongoing scientific
discovery by Dr. Yolken and his colleagues under the Stanley Foundation aegis, and we look
forward to major developments in the future,” says George J. Dover, director of the
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
Theodore and Vada Stanley hail from Connecticut, where Theodore Stanley
serves as the chief executive officer of MBI, Incorporated, which markets collectibles
through subsidiaries such as the Danbury Mint and the Easton Press. The couple
formed their foundation in 1989, after reading the book “Surviving Schizophrenia: A
Family Manual” by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., a former researcher at the National
Institute of Mental Health. The Stanley’s began funding research on schizophrenia
and bipolar disorder through the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Research
Institute, created under the advocacy group, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
(NAMI). Torrey serves as executive director of both the Stanley Foundation
Research Programs and the NAMI Research Institute. “No other pediatric laboratory is
focusing on the role of viruses in mental disorders,” says Torrey of the new
medical division at Hopkins. “Dr. Yolken’s work holds great promise.”
Yolken is a professor of pediatrics and former director of the Eudowood
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
Since joining Hopkins in 1979, he has made key discoveries in the understanding of
diarrheal disease, rotaviruses, HIV infection, gastroenteritis and schizophrenia.
American Group for Rapid Diagnosis Viral Award, the Abbott Award in the Rapid Diagnosis of
Human Disease from the American Society for Microbiology, and the E. Mead Johnson Award
for Research in Pediatrics. A summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where
he also received his medical degree, Yolken later completed a residency in pediatrics at
Yale-New Haven Medical Center and fellowships in pediatric hematology, oncology, and
immunology at Cornell Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital.