Celebrating a New Era in Psychiatric Research

November 18, 2023

“It’s an honor and a responsibility to live up to the traditions of everyone whose work and dreams have been supported by the Rappaport Foundation in the fields of medical research, the arts, and public policy,” said Bill Carlezon, PhD, chief of McLean’s Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research, in his remarks at an event celebrating the Rappaport Foundation’s transformational gift to McLean.

Capping a decades-long relationship with McLean, Phyllis Rappaport and her late husband, Jerry, endowed the hospital’s Division of Basic Neuroscience and established a leadership chair for its chief, Dr. Bill Carlezon.

Through their family foundation and personal philanthropy, the gift renamed the division as the Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research and installed Carlezon as the inaugural incumbent of the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Endowed Chair in Psychiatry.

The Rappaports are well-known for their passion for both funding neuroscience research and supporting emerging leaders.

At McLean, the couple created a competitive, endowed research fellowship in 2000, which today supports three fellows per year. Since then, dozens of early career investigators have had the opportunity to pursue new ideas and advance the field of neuroscience through basic, translational, and clinical research.

The celebration of this gift, held at the Belmont Country Club last spring, had been postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jerry Rappaport, who championed the gift and McLean, passed away in December 2021.

Jerry shared the impetus for the gift: “Many years ago, I recognized that what made McLean exceptional, and a national and international leader, was its world-class research and the translation of that work into new and more effective treatment modalities.”

At the event, Carlezon acknowledged Jerry’s absence saying, “I am sorry I am not able to thank Jerry in person tonight. But I think of him and the Rappaport family every day. I am so humbled by this distinction, and I want to assure you, Phyllis, and the Rappaport Foundation that we consider these resources to be precious, and we will use them thoughtfully for the mission that all of us here share: to make life better.”

“Jerry was the vision and the force behind the foundation and would have been so proud to be here tonight,” said Phyllis. “We have both enjoyed our long relationship with McLean—it is a place of possibilities, and Bill is a talented scientist and a natural educator and mentor.”

A huge Red Sox fan, Carlezon likened the honor to a scientist’s equivalent to being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and quoted designated hitter David Ortiz when crediting the “great people in his corner” throughout his career.

He called out McLean President and Psychiatrist in Chief Scott L. Rauch, MD, for his extraordinary leadership; Chief Scientific Officer Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, for his patience, support, and ‘general brilliance’; and McLean Board of Trustees Chair Carol Vallone for her dedication to advancing McLean’s research endeavor.

Rauch, Ressler, and Vallone all acknowledged the extraordinary foresight and impactful philanthropy of the Rappaports as well as Carlezon’s exceptional talent and major career accomplishments.

“A new era in psychiatric care is on the horizon, and we are proud to play a role in its evolution,” said Phyllis. “I hope that our gift inspires others to support McLean.”

Where Are the Rappaport Scholars Now?

Sabina Berretta, MD, was McLean’s inaugural Rappaport Scholar in 2000 and received the award three times. Initial funding from the Rappaport Foundation supported her research into structural changes that occur in two brain regions of people with schizophrenia.

This critical support created the groundwork for the next two decades of research and helped set her on the path of an extraordinary career.

Today, Dr. Berretta, a talented neuroscientist and a well-respected leader within McLean’s robust research enterprise, is director of McLean’s Translational Neuroscience Laboratory and in 2014 was named director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center (HBTRC) at McLean.

Dr. Berretta’s research is focused on the pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders. Specifically, her group works on understanding brain changes underlying emotion dysregulation across brain diagnoses.

At the HBTRC, Dr. Berretta leads one of the largest centralized resources for the collection and distribution of human brain specimens for neuroscience research. The HBTRC is part of the National Institutes of Health NeuroBioBank, a network of six brain repositories working collaboratively to make research on brain disorders possible for investigators around the world.

Kristin Javaras, DPhil, PhD, was a Rappaport Scholar for two consecutive years from 2015-2017.

The Rappaport Foundation’s support helped Dr. Javaras to develop a program of clinical research focused on understanding how stress and negative emotions affect eating behavior in the general population and in individuals with psychiatric disorders (e.g., eating disorders, depression).

The foundation’s support specifically enabled Dr. Javaras to develop a novel task—using equipment she designed—that quantifies how much highly palatable food participants eat when they are experiencing stress. The second year of her fellowship allowed her to test her task in a broad sample of people.

Several years later, Dr. Javaras continues to conduct clinical, epidemiological, and methodological research, with the ultimate goal of developing better interventions for eating disorders and other problems of eating.

Her research includes a current study of how acute stressors affect food choice in women with and without binge eating disorder, which is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Mei-Hua Hall, PhD, received the Rappaport award in 2009 which enabled her to study schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in an innovative way that bypassed diagnostic categories and focused on an individual’s biological profile.

Her objective was to understand patient heterogeneity while identifying homogeneous patient subgroups characterized by unique neurobiological signatures and distinct functional outcome trajectories, facilitating the development of more targeted and effective treatments.

At the time, Dr. Hall’s work was both high-risk and novel and the foundation’s support paved the way for larger grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Since 2013, Dr. Hall has been director of McLean’s Psychosis Neurobiology Laboratory. She uses an integrative and machine learning approach to understand the neurobiological mechanisms underlying psychotic disorders and to model patients’ functional recovery trajectory.

She employs natural language processing (NLP) techniques to extract clinical information from electronic health records databases to build predictive tools for assessing the readmission risk among patients with psychotic disorders. Her team’s overarching goal is to identify individuals with different recovery paths and develop individually tailored treatments.

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