The University Of Michigan To Advance Bipolar Disorder Research With $10 Million In Gifts

By Amit Chowdhry ● September 11, 2019
  • The Richard Tam Foundation has provided a $5.8 million gift to the University of Michigan to advance bipolar disorder research

There are nearly 6 million Americans who have bipolar disorder — which is a complex mental health condition that causes manic highs and depressed lows. And finding a treatment that steadies moods — even with the help of an experienced treatment team — often takes a lot of time and luck. Many people never find medications that work for them and as many as one in five will die by suicide.

The University of Michigan is aiming to bring more precision to the care of people with bipolar disorder using a new gift. And it will expand and harness the power of massive data from U-M bipolar research, which allows researchers to mine that information in combination with other data using advanced tools built for Precision Health at the University of Michigan.

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The Richard Tam Foundation provided a new $5.8 million gift, bringing the total giving to the University of Michigan for bipolar research to $10 million and will allow more scientists and clinicians to translate new knowledge into improved care. The support also includes its first major gift of $500,000 for Precision Health at the University of Michigan:

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“Precision Health is developing unprecedented insights into human health and disease, and I’m grateful to Judith Tam for her generous support,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D. “This gift from the Richard Tam Foundation will enhance our bipolar disorder research by taking advantage of the genetic and lab test data platform assembled by Precision Health at U-M, resulting in improved care for millions of patients.”

Judith Tam — the president of the Richard Tam Foundation — said that the combination of the University of Michigan’s strength in studying bipolar disorder and related conditions along with its investment in precision health had inspired the gift.

“Precision health could help doctors figure out the right medicine to give to a particular patient, much more quickly, and could expand their toolbox through new discoveries,” added Tam in a statement. “We’ve got brilliant people here, and I’ve seen the passion in their eyes when they talk about their research. They’re not just doing their work and going home. They are on fire.”

Kara Gavin, the research and policy media relations manager at the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan, pointed out that the Richard Tam Foundation has been providing U-M’s bipolar work with gifts since 2014 and helped fuel the growth of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program, which has collected genetic samples and other data from people with and without bipolar illness for over 13 years.

“This new gift will allow us to build upon the infrastructure already in place at the university, to integrate clinical data and our research data and ultimately to build models of illness trajectories that will inform care,” explained Melvin McInnis, M.D., the scientific director of the Prechter Program.

Sachin Kheterpal, M.D., M.B.A. — a co-director of U-M Precision Health — had praised the Richard Tam Foundation’s position as a pioneer in giving to the new U-M initiative.

“It’s a very generous gift that is hopefully a model for future gifts, where we’re able to demonstrate the value of researching individual diseases, marrying that research data with the Precision Health platforms we’re building, and thereby increasing the potential for hundreds of researchers to benefit from the overall impact,” commented Kheterpal.

This gift will also create a Tam Precision Health & Bipolar Collaboration Fund within Precision Health.

“We absolutely need to leverage our Precision Health platform to advance and support the pace of discovery research. We are highly committed to collecting more robust bipolar research data, as well as information on other therapeutic treatments that would benefit from a very personalized approach,” commented U-M executive vice president for medical affairs Marschall S. Runge, M.D., Ph.D.

Along with supporting Precision Health-related work, the new gift is going to continue support for bipolar disorder research projects at the University of Michigan. And it will also create a professorship in the Department of Psychiatry at Michigan Medicine with the proposed name of the Richard Tam Professorship in Translational Bipolar Research pending approval by the University of Michigan Board of Regents. And this will allow the recruitment of another top bipolar researcher to the University of Michigan.

The Richard Tam Foundation has issued a challenge to others interested in moving bipolar research forward at the University of Michigan, offering to match bequests documented in 2019. Judith Tam is hoping that the new gift will inspire even more giving by those who have seen the impact of bipolar disorder on those they love. And she is also hoping others who give to the University of Michigan biomedical research will consider including Precision Health as a recipient.

Featured image: Judith Tam and Sachin Kheterpal / credit: University of Michigan

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