Mclean Hospital
historical photo of lab

History & Progress

For over 200 years, McLean Hospital has been at the forefront of patient care, research, training, and education.

Scientific investigation at the McLean Hospital started in 1888, when the hospital established laboratories and facilities for the study of pathology, psychology, microbiology and chemistry. Never before had research laboratories been placed within the clinical setting of a psychiatric institution in the United States, and possibly the world. For over a century the evolution of the McLean research program has led to a unique confluence of clinical and laboratory resources for the study of psychiatric disorders. The following timeline illustrates some of the milestones of research at McLean.

The Nineteenth Century

  • 1811 - The first mental hospital in New England is founded as part of the new Massachusetts General Hospital. It later becomes McLean Hospital.
  • 1882 - The first School of Nursing in a psychiatric hospital opens at McLean.
  • 1888 - McLean establishes basic and clinical laboratories to study the role of biological factors in mental illness. It is the first such research program in a psychiatric hospital in America.

The Twentieth Century

  • 1944 - Dr. Jordi Folch-Pi is named McLean’s first Director of Scientific Research.
  • 1946 - The Biological Research Laboratory (later to evolve into the Mailman Research Center) opens.
  • 1951 - Brain proteolipids are discovered at McLean. They are a new class of molecules necessary for brain structure and function, and their discovery provides a basis for understanding normal brain development and abnormalities underlying psychiatric illness.
  • 1957 - McLean develops a procedure, adopted worldwide, for extracting and identifying brain lipids. It is a key advance toward improved understanding of brain structures.
  • 1960 - McLean becomes the first center for electron microscopy in a US psychiatric institution, providing the ability to view the structure of individual nerve cells in the brain.
  • 1973 - Established the first Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center in a private American psychiatric hospital, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive research facility of its kind devoted to the study of addictive disorders.
  • 1977 - The Laboratories for Psychiatric Research are established in the Mailman Research Center, doubling the size of the building and adding two new floors.
  • 1978 - McLean establishes the country’s first National Institutes of Health- and private-foundation supported Brain Bank for the study of neuropsychiatric diseases.
  • 1983 - McLean releases the first clinical report on the use for beta-blockers to treat restlessness (akathisia), a major side-effect of antipsychotic agents.
  • 1984 - McLean establishes the first controlled outcome study evaluating the effects of psychoanalytic psychotherapy for patients with schizophrenia. The results of this study spurred a new generation of psychosocial approaches in the treatment of this disorder.
  • 1988 - McLean develops and identifies diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorders adopted by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Psychiatric Association.
  • 1988 - McLean becomes the first psychiatric hospital in the world to establish a Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging Center.
  • 1990 - McLean is number one among private US psychiatric hospitals in Public Health Service research.
  • 1994 - McLean develops and introduces the BASIS-32 outcomes measurement scale, one of the most widely-used in the United States.
  • 1994 - McLean is the first to use in-vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy to detect alcohol tolerance in humans and the effects of alcohol and other drugs on brain blood flow.
  • 1995 - The first study in healthy children combining anatomic, chemical and functional data on brain development begins at McLean. The results of the investigation will provide a better understanding of normal brain development and serve as a basis for evaluating changes associated with psychiatric illness in children.
  • 1996 - Researchers at McLean discover the first evidence indicating a chemical abnormality of nerve-cell function in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, a finding that ultimately leads to the first FDA-approved treatments for Alzheimer’s.
  • 1998 - McLean is the first to publish reports that the use of steroids by body builders is associated with the induction of psychiatric symptoms, including violent behavior.
  • 1999 - McLean is the first to demonstrate that absorption of the essential nutrient choline into the brain decreases with age. Reversing this deficit may lower the risk of late-life neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The Twenty First Century

  • 2000 - The Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean (the “Brain Bank”) receives its 5,000th donated brain specimen. The largest Brain Bank in the world, the HBTRC distributes specimens to 4,000 researchers annually.
  • 2001 - The Neuroimaging Center opens. This is the third building on campus exclusively devoted to research and houses a 4.0 Tesla magnet, one of less than 20 magnetic resonance scanners in the world with this field strength.
  • 2002 - McLean Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Center (ADARC) received the largest single grant in McLean’s history. The $6.4 million grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to study cocaine abuse and how to better treat it.
  • 2004 - During a White House ceremony, McLean Hospital researcher William A. Carlezon, Jr., PhD, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).
  • 2007 - McLean Hospital investigators conducted the first national survey of individuals with eating disorder, showing that binge eating disorder is more prevalent than either anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
  • 2011 - McLean Hospital became the first psychiatric hospital in the nation to receive accreditation from the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs (AAHRPP). The voluntary accreditation, announced last month, is for a three-year period. McLean joins its parent institution, Partners HealthCare, in receiving accreditation from the AAHRPP.
  • 2013 - Ole Isacson, Dr Med Sci, director of the Neuroregeneration Research Institute at McLean Hospital and one of the world’s preeminent experts in the use of stem cell therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, was recently invited by Pope Francis to present his work at the Vatican.
  • 2014 - The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) awarded the Julius Axelrod Prize to Joseph T. Coyle, MD, chief scientific officer and chief of the Division of Basic Neuroscience of McLean Hospital. The Julius Axelrod Prize recognizes exceptional achievements in neuropharmacology and in mentoring young scientists.