McLean Hospital Researcher Elected to Elite National Organization

November 04, 2004

Public Affairs
Adriana Bobinchock

Belmont, MA - Francine M. Benes, MD, PhD, director of the Program in Structural and Molecular Neuroscience at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, has been elected a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies. Members of the four institutes that comprise the National Academies serve as advisors to national policy-makers on science, engineering and medicine.

    "Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health," said Harvey V. Fineberg, IOM president. "Our members are individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health."

    Benes, through her examinations of postmortem human brain issue and animal models, was the first to find evidence of a miswiring of fibers in the brain's circuitry system that may give rise to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Her research has also led to the understanding that schizophrenia and bipolar do not involve typical degenerative changes in the brain, like those seen in Alzheimer's disease. Benes also identified two different maturational changes that could possibly contribute to the onset of schizophrenia during adolescence.

    Taken together with her work on brain development, Benes' findings have opened up areas of research that could lead to new treatment and prevention strategies for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and offset the cognitive, emotional and functional deterioration that ensues in people with these devastating illnesses.

    "With each important discovery, Dr. Benes continues to provide new hope to the countless individuals and their families whose lives have been robbed of the basic human qualities that most people take for granted-normal thought, emotions and the ability to cope with daily life," said Bruce Cohen, MD, PhD, president and psychiatrist in chief for McLean and fellow neuroscientist. "The path to new treatments is long and winding; however, with individuals like Francine Benes leading the way, that path is filled with promise."

    "I feel greatly honored by election to the IOM and look forward to serving on the many task forces sponsored by this organization," said Benes.

    In 1998, she was invited to present her neuroscience work to the Nobel Committee in Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to directing the Structural and Molecular Neuroscience Laboratory, Benes is director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital, one of the world's largest "brain banks."

    She recently earned the Constance Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) and currently has a MERIT Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1998, she received the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Shervert H. Frazier Institute at McLean Hospital. She has also served on a variety of task forces convened by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Disease, the National Institutes of Neurological Disease and Stroke, the World Health Organization and the National Academy of Sciences. She is a council member of NARSAD and serves on advisory boards for the International Congress of Schizophrenia Research and the California Neuro-AIDS Consortium.

     Benes is one of only 65 new members to be elected to the IOM this year, bringing the Institute's total active membership to 1,416.

    Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, the IOM is a nationally recognized resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on issues related to human health.

    McLean Hospital maintains the largest research program of any private, U.S. psychiatric hospital. It is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare.

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