Longtime Supporters Bring World Class Research Leader to McLean

November 21, 2014

For longtime donors and McLean National Council members Pat and Jim Poitras, supporting new discoveries in psychiatry has been a common thread in their philanthropy. That is why they have, for many years, invested in research at McLean Hospital.

Their most recent gift to McLean—and largest at $4 million—established the Patricia and James Poitras Endowed Chair in Psychiatry at McLean Hospital. Thanks to the Poitrases’ generosity, McLean was able to recruit a stellar chief scientific officer, world-renowned clinician-researcher Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, who will succeed Joseph Coyle, MD, in this important role.

Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD
Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, who will serve as McLean’s Chief Scientific Officer beginning in August 2015.

Ressler is an expert in fear-based disorders whose research examines how fear works in the mammalian brain on cellular and molecular levels, informing the treatment and prevention of disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“We have often thought that the people you recruit to an institution are crucial,” said Pat. “It sounds obvious, but it is a very competitive environment, and there are many institutions interested in candidates like Dr. Ressler. This opportunity was exciting for us because we knew that endowing the chair would greatly increase the probability that he would come to McLean.”

Ressler is currently a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Yerkes Research Center of Emory University, as well as a member of the Institute of Medicine and chair of the Scientific Council of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. He has also been very involved in training physician scientists as the current director of Emory’s MD/PhD program. Thus, he will bring a tremendous amount of scientific, clinical and training experience when he assumes his new role at McLean next August.

As chief scientific officer at McLean, Ressler will oversee the hospital’s comprehensive research enterprise, enhancing the breadth and depth of the scientific portfolio, promoting research collaborations, and advancing a vision for improved lab facilities.

“Dr. Ressler is unique in that he is both an outstanding neuroscientist and trained as a clinical psychiatrist. He bridges both worlds to come up with creative and powerful scientific insights about the genetics and epigenetics of anxiety disorders like PTSD,” said Coyle.

What drew Ressler to McLean was the opportunity to be part of the “best clinical psychiatric program in the country, and probably the world, and its outstanding, cutting-edge research program,” he said. The fact that McLean’s basic and clinical research takes place on the same campus as its treatment programs—unlike many other research operations—was another huge draw. “I’ve spent my career doing translational research, from bench to bedside and back again. I see my charge at McLean as fostering further translation by helping the clinicians intersect with the basic scientists and vice versa,” said Ressler.

Taken a step further, discoveries made in one area of brain disorders often inform others, sometimes even the entire field. This notion was compelling to the Poitrases, along with the idea that, from an administrative perspective, the chief scientific officer position is essential. “Having someone like Dr. Ressler who is responsible for institution-wide research is important to the coordination, direction and focus of the overall operation,” said Jim.

The Poitrases’ gift comes at a critical juncture for McLean, with the fields of neuroscience and psychiatric genetics exploding, according to Scott L. Rauch, MD, McLean’s president and psychiatrist in chief and Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Chair of Psychiatry. “McLean has a 200-year commitment to improving the quality of care for those with mental illness through neuroscientific discoveries,” he said. “The Poitrases’ tremendous gift helps us build on that incredible legacy.”

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