At a ceremony today

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.