A new collaborative research powerhouse will explore and discover the underlying causes of this debilitating illness and train future leaders in the field.

Posted on February 8, 2019

Thanks to a $20-million gift from the Labatt family, the University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry is launching a groundbreaking network dedicated to understanding the biological causes of depression. The Labatt Family Network for Research on the Biology of Depression will pioneer innovative approaches to depression research, advance our understanding of the biology of depression and foster the next generation of research talent.

The Labatt family saw an opportunity at the University of Toronto to make a real difference

This collaborative network will establish two Labatt Family Chairs at the University of Toronto with links to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and fund a professorship, numerous fellows, residents and early-stage scientists working across Toronto’s biomedical ecosystem. The Labatt Family Network’s principal aim will be to push beyond institutional and disciplinary boundaries to find new pathways of discovery.

“Depression can be a debilitating challenge to those who suffer from it and to their families,” says President Meric Gertler. “The Labatt family saw an opportunity at the University of Toronto to make a real difference. With their generous gift, our talented researchers in the Department of Psychiatry, and those working at institutes across the Toronto region, can begin making headway in how we understand the biological causes of this devastating illness.”

World’s leading cause of disability

The World Health Organization identifies depression as the leading cause of disability on the planet, and it is an illness with no single cause. Symptoms can vary from person to person as depressive disorders come in different forms, and the efficacy of treatments is different for each sufferer. Understanding the biological underpinnings of depression is widely seen as the next great frontier for research in the field.

The Labatt Family Network is truly a game-changer in the study of depression

“The Labatt Family Network is truly a game-changer in the study of depression,” says Professor Trevor Young, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “This support for the early, innovative work of clinician-scientists will allow them to pursue sustained interdisciplinary research that we hope will lead to a biomedical model of depression. This will help us understand how depression begins and develops across the lifespan. We are tremendously grateful to the Labatt family for this gift that will help us close a crucial gap in our understanding.”

Seeking innovative solutions

The Labatt family’s transformational gift will build a network of talent, and fund multiple research trajectories, to ensure investigators can follow the most promising leads as they build a better biological model of depression. The Labatt Family Chair in Depression Biology and Children (U of T/SickKids), the Labatt Family Chair in Depression Biology and Late Life Adults (U of T/CAMH) and the Labatt Family Professorship in Depression Biology will support the best minds in depression research, while the Labatt Family Research Fellowships in Depression Biology and the Labatt Family Research Program will develop the next generation of leaders by attracting students, residents and young scientists to the field.

The Labatt Family Network as a whole will benefit from guidance from the Labatt Family Network Advisory Council, an independent body led by the Cameron Wilson Chair that will include internationally acclaimed psychiatric researchers.

We hope our gift will act as a catalyst for the next big wave of ideas

“We know that scientists are only beginning to grasp the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors that can result in depression,” says Arthur Labatt. “With our gift, the Labatt Family Network will act as a catalyst for the next big wave of ideas for preventing and managing this illness, and develop the talent of tomorrow. We hope that the fundamental work undertaken here will one day bring relief to the millions of families that depression affects worldwide.”

Recognizing the Labatt family’s generosity, the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry will now be named the Labatt Family Chair, with Professor Benoit Mulsant as the inaugural holder. This is one of few named departmental chairs in the Faculty of Medicine, taking an esteemed place alongside the Sir John and Lady Eaton Chair of the Department of Medicine, and the R.S. McLaughlin Chair of the Department of Surgery.

The Director of the Labatt Family Network will be Professor Alastair Flint, an expert on geriatric psychiatry who is the Vice-Chair of Research in the Department of Psychiatry and a Senior Scientist at the University Health Network.

“This gift from the Labatt family represents truly visionary support,” says David Palmer, Vice-President Advancement. “We don’t know where the next great discovery will come from, but by investing in ideas and approaches that show promise, and nurturing the talent of tomorrow, the Labatt family has taken an enlightened approach to how we will tackle depression in the future. And that is cause for hope for millions of people around the world.”

You can make an online contribution to the Labatt Family Network for Research on the Biology of Depression at the University of Toronto.

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