The National Academy of Medicine today awarded the 2016 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health to two recipients: Steven Hyman, director of the Stanley Institute in Cambridge, Mass., and Robin Murray, a professor at King’s College London, United Kingdom. Hyman was awarded the prize for his leadership in furthering understanding and treatment of psychiatric disorders as biological diseases. Murray was awarded the prize for integrating the biological, environmental, and social aspects of schizophrenia and thereby improving the lives of patients and their families.

“Through their pioneering, innovative work, Dr. Hyman and Dr. Murray have each greatly advanced our understanding of mental health disorders and helped develop effective treatments that have changed patients’ lives for the better,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau.

sarnat-hymanSteven Hyman has been a leader in the world of mental illness research and treatment for over three decades. As a physician and scientist in the 1980s and 1990s, Hyman was at the forefront of the movement to understand the biological bases of mental disorders. Hyman led the National Institute of Mental Health from 1996 to 2001, when he made neuroscience and genetics central to the NIMH mission and launched several large-scale clinical trials to inform practice and treatment strategies, seeking to identify more effective real-world treatments for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and childhood and adolescent depression and other disorders. Following his tenure at NIH, Hyman assumed an instrumental role in the revisions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, encouraging dimensional approaches to mental illnesses that take into account genetics, co-morbidities, and emerging neuroscience data. In his current post as director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, Hyman has created worldwide research collaborations devoted to unbiased, large-scale genetic studies of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, and recruited outstanding stem cell scientists and neurobiologists to develop models with which to analyze genetics results.

sarnat-murrayRobin Murray’s early work studying differences between identical twins revealed that some of the structural brain changes seen in schizophrenia are determined by early environmental factors. Over the course of three decades, Murray and his colleagues identified environmental factors that increase the risk of schizophrenia-like psychosis such as premature birth, migration, heavy cannabis use, and adverse life events. Murray established and continues to work in the National Psychosis Unit at the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals, a unit that has pioneered the introduction of several treatments. He has also played a significant role in improving the care of people with psychosis throughout the U.K. From 2011 to 2013 he chaired the U.K. Schizophrenia Commission, whose recommendations influenced the development of a policy ensuring that people get access to psychosocial therapies as well as a high standard of pharmacotherapy.

Since 1992 the Sarnat Prize has been presented to individuals, groups, or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement in improving mental health. The prize recognizes — without regard for professional discipline or nationality — achievements in basic science, clinical application, and public policy that lead to progress in the understanding, etiology, prevention, treatment, or cure of mental disorders, or to the promotion of mental health. As defined by the nominating criteria, the field of mental health encompasses neuroscience, psychology, social work, nursing, psychiatry, and advocacy.

The award is supported by an endowment created by Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat of Los Angeles. Rhoda Sarnat is a licensed clinical social worker, and Bernard Sarnat is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and researcher. The Sarnats’ concern about the destructive effects of mental illness inspired them to establish the award. Nominations for potential recipients are solicited from Academy members, deans of medical schools, and mental health professionals. This year’s selection committee was chaired by Story Landis, former director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health.

Additional information about the Sarnat Prize can be found here.

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