University Senate

Proposed: April 27, 2001

Adopted: April 27, 2001



THE Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology


WHEREAS††††† it is the function of the Senate Committee on Education to examine and approve proposals for the founding of institutes at the University, and

WHEREAS††††† the Committee has reviewed the proposal to establish the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology, with a favorable recommendation as to its establishment,

WHEREAS††††† the proposed Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology meets the statutory definition of an institute, and

WHEREAS††††† the establishment of the proposed institute also has the authorization of the president of the University, in the accordance with University Statutes,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED†††††† that the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology be established, with the understanding that these activities shall be conducted in conformity with Chapter XXXV of the University Statutes, which defines the operation of institutes.



Education Committee


Rationale for Establishment of

Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology



According to a recent epidemiological study conducted by the World Health Organization, five of the ten most disabling medical conditions worldwide are psychiatric illnesses, with depression as the worst. Suicide is now the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, and 70% of people who commit suicide are suffering from depression when they take their lives. The rest had schizophrenia, substance abuse, or severe personality disorder. Many psychiatric illnesses have their roots in childhood disturbances. For example, abnormally high levels of anxiety are frequently seen in young children and adolescents who later develop severe and recurrent forms of depression. Difficulties with socialization, learning, and memory are common among children. It is widely believed that these conditions involve both genetically mediated and environmentally determined disruptions of normal brain development, much of which occurs during the first two trimesters of gestation. It is now possible, using molecular biology, preclinical models, and neuroimaging, to study in detail the developing human brain and identify influences that result in disruption of embryonic brain growth.



The goal of the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology will be to assemble a multidisciplinary team of scientists who will apply cutting edge technology to examine the pathways by which disrupted embryonic brain growth results in psychiatric disturbance during life. This will involve investigators from four main areas of inquiry. Molecular biologists will study the mechanisms by which mutations in key genes and exposure to environmental insults (such as infection, fever, malnutrition) alter the normal development of specific brain circuits. These abnormalities will then be modeled by preclinical scientists who use animal models to establish the behavioral abnormalities that occur following such disrupted brain development. Using state-of-the-art neuroimaging technology, we will then identify these abnormalities in living human brains of patients suffering from the major psychiatric illnesses. Finally, a team of clinical scientists will translate these findings into therapeutics.


Until recently, treatment for most psychiatric illness has been empirical. We are now in a position to apply sophisticated neurobiological methodology to develop rationally based interventions. Columbia University is poised to be the nationís leader in this area because of the opportunity to combine the efforts of many thematically linked scientific disciplines dedicated to solving the same problems on both basic and clinical levels.


Education Committee