Nearly 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder, a complex mental health condition that can send them on a roller coaster of manic highs and depressed lows. Finding a treatment that steadies their mood, even with the help of an experienced treatment team, can take time and a little bit of luck.
Some never find medications that work for them, and as many as one in five die by suicide.
A new gift to the University of Michigan aims to bring more precision to the care of people with bipolar disorder. It will expand and harness the power of massive data from U-M bipolar research and allow researchers to mine that trove of information in combination with other data, using advanced tools created for Precision Health at U-M.
The new $5.8 million gift from the Richard Tam Foundation brings the foundation’s total giving to U-M for bipolar research to $10 million, and will allow more scientists and clinicians to translate new knowledge into improved care. Support includes $500,000 for Precision Health at U-M, its first major gift.
Judith Tam, president of the Richard Tam Foundation, said the combination of U-M’s strength in studying bipolar disorder and related conditions, and its investment in precision health, 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,” she said. “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.”
The Richard Tam Foundation has given to U-M’s bipolar work since 2014, helping fuel the growth of the Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program that has collected genetic samples and other data from people with and without bipolar illness for more than 13 years.
“Our Precision Health initiative is developing unprecedented insights into human health and disease, and I’m grateful to Judith Tam for her generous support,” President Mark Schlissel said. “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 our Precision Health Initiative at U-M, resulting in improved care for millions of patients.”
Melvin McInnis, scientific director of the Prechter Program, said, “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.”
Sachin Kheterpal, a co-director of U-M Precision Health, praises 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,” he said.
The gift will create a Tam Precision Health & Bipolar Collaboration Fund within Precision Health.
Precision Health, launched in early 2018, offers researchers across U-M access to genetic and clinical data, and the tools and expertise they need to use them to advance their research. It also offers training and funding to help researchers harness the power of these data and tools.
“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,” said Marschall S. Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs.
In addition to supporting Precision Health-related work, the new gift will continue support for bipolar disorder research projects at U-M.
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 Board of Regents. This will allow the recruitment of another top bipolar researcher to U-M.
The Richard Tam Foundation issued a challenge to others interested in moving bipolar research forward at U-M, offering to match bequests documented in 2019. Judith Tam hopes that the new gift will inspire even more giving by those who have seen the impact of bipolar disorder on those they love. She also hopes others who give to U-M biomedical research will consider including Precision Health as a recipient.
“The work that we’re doing with Precision Health is absolutely fundamental and transformational in terms of the future of medicine, the future of mental health research and the future of our understanding of various different human illnesses,” McInnis said.