McLean Hospital’s Dr. Joseph Coyle Receives Sarnat Award

National Academy of Medicine honors outstanding achievements in improving mental health

October 16, 2017

McLean Hospital’s Joseph T. Coyle, MD, widely renowned for his revolutionary neuroscience research that has led to improved clinical care for those with mental illness worldwide, was honored today by the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) with the 2017 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health.

The selection of Coyle, who holds the Eben S. Draper Chair of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital, for the Sarnat Prize is reflective of the advances he has made during his 49-year career. Among the key reasons cited by NAM in honoring him is his work that laid the foundation for integrating neuroscience and clinical psychiatry and shifted psychiatry’s emphasis toward empirically-based brain research.

“Through pioneering research and clinical work, Joseph Coyle has made profound contributions to the understanding of a range of serious neuropsychiatric disorders,” said NAM President Victor J. Dzau, MD.

Coyle’s groundbreaking research illuminated some of the neurological mechanisms underlying Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. For example, his research revealed that oxidative stress can lead to neural damage in schizophrenia and prompted the identification of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.

“Joe’s work has been a model of psychiatric neuroscience, illuminating the brain basis of psychiatric disorders and by doing so, paving the way toward novel treatments and better care,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean Hospital. “The contributions that Joe Coyle has made to the fields of psychiatry and neuroscience are vast and beyond measure.”

Joseph T. Coyle, MD
Joseph T. Coyle, MD

Coyle joined Harvard and McLean in 1991 after being recruited to serve as the chairman of the academic Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School—a role in which he served from 1991 to 2001. Prior to arriving at Harvard, Coyle was a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins, where under his guidance, the Center of Excellence in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry transformed into one of the top divisions in the country, contributing to the literature on psychopharmacologic management of serious mental disorders in children.

A graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, he received his MD from Johns Hopkins. He completed an internship in pediatrics, a residency in psychiatry, and a fellowship with the Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod, PhD. He joined the Hopkins faculty in 1975 and was named the Distinguished Service Professor of Child Psychiatry in 1985.

Coyle is a member of the NAM (1990), a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993), and a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He is past president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (2001) and of the Society for Neuroscience (1991). He was the editor of JAMA Psychiatry for over a decade.

Coyle is no stranger to accolades, having earned more than 45 awards during his career. Among the more recent honors he has received are the “Badge of Honor,” the highest non-degree awarded from the Medical University of Vienna; the Julius Axelrod Prize from the Society for Neuroscience for distinguished achievements in neuropharmacology and mentoring young scientists; and the Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research.

“The Sarnat Award is particularly meaningful to me because of the record of accomplishments of the previous awardees,” said Coyle. “I am deeply touched by the Academy’s recognition.”

Since 1992, the Sarnat Prize has been presented to individuals, groups, or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement in improving mental health. The prize recognizes—without regard for professional discipline or nationality—achievements in basic science, clinical application, and public policy that lead to progress in the understanding, etiology, prevention, treatment, or cure of mental disorders, or to the promotion of mental health. As defined by the nominating criteria, the field of mental health encompasses neuroscience, psychology, social work, nursing, psychiatry, and advocacy. This year, in addition to Coyle, the team of Catherine Lord and Matthew State were also recognized with the Sarnat Prize.

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine, is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond. It serves alongside the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering as an adviser to the nation and the international community. Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors. The NAM collaborates closely with its peer academies and other divisions within the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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