Rappaport Gift Is Culmination of Two Decades of Basic Neuroscience Support

July 30, 2022

Phyllis and Jerry Rappaport have always taken two things very seriously: McLean Hospital’s leadership in neuroscience research and the importance of emerging leaders in advancing the field of psychiatry.

As evidence, and as a capstone to a 20-year relationship with the hospital, the couple has endowed both McLean’s division of basic neuroscience—now called the Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research—and established the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Endowed Chair in Psychiatry.

Bill Carlezon, PhD, is chief of the newly named division and has been installed as the inaugural incumbent of the Rappaport chair.

Recognizing a Leader

“We first met Dr. Carlezon at a National Council event,” said Jerry. “He gave one of the best presentations we’ve ever experienced. Our foundation funds talent, and Dr. Carlezon is a talented researcher, well known for his work. As chief of the basic neuroscience division at McLean, he has provided crucial support to our Rappaport fellows over the years. His energy, enthusiasm, and generative style make him a natural educator and mentor.”

It was Carlezon’s pioneering work in developing a procedure called viral gene transfer that put him on the neuroscience map. The technique enables scientists to use engineered viruses to transfer genes into the brain in order to control the function of neurons and neuronal circuits.

Over the decades, this technique has enabled transformative new insights into how the brain adapts to experience, and more recently it is opening up new avenues of treatment.

Bill Carlezon, PhD

Bill Carlezon, PhD

Now Carlezon has been recognized with “a career-defining honor” as the first occupant of the Rappaport endowed chair—one of the highest honors for any leader in academia. “I’m proud to be affiliated with a family that has done so much for so many people,” said Carlezon.

The Rappaports’ gift allows Carlezon to invest in supplementary activities that enrich the center’s research agenda but aren’t typically covered by government grants. Examples include expanding diversity through initiatives like McLean’s Mental Health Research Summer Program and participating in events that bring together psychiatrists and neuroscientists to bridge gaps between research and clinical practice.

“Some of the most productive professional relationships happen when you meet someone at a conference poster session or you’re sitting having lunch together. These chance meetings can result in interesting collaborations and new discoveries that wouldn’t have happened otherwise,” said Carlezon. “This gift will benefit McLean’s neuroscience community in ways that weren’t previously possible.”

Rappaport Fellows

In 2000, Phyllis and Jerry established the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Mental Health Research Scholars Endowed Fund at McLean. The highly sought-after Rappaport Fellowships are competitive, one-year research grants and recipients are often able to leverage the grants to obtain federal funding to continue their projects.

Since then, they have supported dozens of Rappaport Research Fellows—up-and-coming investigators in the fields of neurology, imaging, and clinical research. The Rappaports’ endowed fellowship now supports three fellows a year, impacting not only the careers of the awardees, but the entire field, according to Carlezon.

“These talented young researchers are advancing our understanding of the biological basis of psychiatric illnesses. The Rappaports’ support enables them to pursue new ideas that are higher risk than those that would be funded by the federal government.”

“Over the past 20 years, our partnership with McLean has produced a remarkable number of very talented scientists who have gone on to pursue significant research on schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, addiction, and depression, as well as basic research into neuroscience and the brain,” said Jerry. Added Phyllis: “And many of our Rappaport Fellows have stayed at McLean, contributing to the hospital’s legacy and reputation.”

A Long and Personal Relationship

The Rappaports’ support and confidence in McLean continues to be personal.

“Our contributions to McLean reflect our respect for the critical role that the hospital has played in leading the fight to treat and cure the myriad forms of mental illnesses for all ages and genders,” said Phyllis.

The Rappaports were founding members of the McLean National Council, which was established in 2002 to help McLean broaden its donor base nationally and thereby grow its resources to enhance McLean’s mission, impact, reputation, and reach.

They said their gifts speak to their gratitude for the hospital’s treatment of three generations of family members and their confidence in its position as a leader in psychiatric care, research, and education.

“Jerry and Phyllis have been trusted friends and supporters of McLean for two decades,” said Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief.

“They have an astute understanding of how vital it is to invest in talented, young investigators in the quest to advance basic neuroscience discoveries more broadly. This insight—backed by their generosity over the years—has been extraordinary. This latest gift is a meaningful way to associate their impact on McLean and basic neuroscience research for generations.”

This story was developed prior to Jerry Rappaport’s death in December 2021.

Media Requests

Journalist or member of the media? We are available 24/7 for media requests.