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Bridging Distances: Patricia and James Poitras Fund McLean’s Novel Research Study with MIT

April 15, 2012 Print

The distance between McLean Hospital and MIT is a mere eight miles, but that is vast in the world of scientific collaborations.

Longtime McLean and MIT donors Pat and Jim Poitras decided to bridge the distance by supporting an innovative study bringing together the two research powerhouses to investigate the brain abnormalities at the root of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

“We wanted to encourage collaboration between the two institutions, given that they are both working on many of the same projects,” said Jim, an MIT graduate who serves on the McLean National Council with his wife. “They are only 20 minutes apart, but that can be an awfully long way psychologically.”

“Each institution excels in specific areas and it makes perfect sense to foster such collaboration,” added Pat. “There is expertise at McLean that doesn’t exist at MIT and the reverse is true,” she said. “It has always been a concern of ours as funders that whomever we are supporting not do their work in isolation. To the extent we can encourage that, we are happy.”

James and Patricia Poitras
James and Patricia Poitras

The study unites three esteemed researchers: McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, an OCD expert; Marc Kaufman, PhD, director of McLean’s Translational Imaging Laboratory; and MIT’s Guoping Feng, PhD, an expert on synapses and their role in psychiatric illness. Using genetically altered mice developed by Feng that possess OCD traits, the McLean pair will study their brains using noninvasive, high-tech neuroimaging. The goal is to scrutinize the structural and chemical differences between the OCD mice brains and normal controls over time to pinpoint when these abnormalities begin to appear and better understand the developmental timeline of the disease. The hope is that this novel study will produce intriguing pilot data that can be used to attract federal funding for a more expansive study.

“This is exactly the kind of innovative research that would not get done without private philanthropy,” said Rauch. “Add to that the collaborative aspect of this study and the Poitrases’ support is truly invaluable.”

The Poitras family has a personal connection with McLean through a daughter who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder many years ago. After an initial misdiagnosis and an unhappy stay at another institution, the family connected with a psychiatrist at McLean. “He was so kind to us and helpful in getting her admitted to McLean,” said Pat. “It was lifesaving. Since then we have been so grateful to McLean.”

The couple said that while they have focused much of their giving over the years on bipolar disorder, it is possible this study will yield insights that could have implications for other diseases—including their daughter’s—well into the future.