Case Studies

The Friedman Brain Institute

The Friedman Brain Institute coordinates all neuroscience activities at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, from basic research to the delivery of clinical care. This collaboration fosters innovation and efficiency, resulting in discoveries that advance the field — and save lives.


“The institute aims to drive state-of-the-art research to develop improved diagnostic tests and treatments, and, ultimately, cures for a range of brain disorders,” says Dr. Eric J. Nestler, director of the institute. It encompasses disciplines that study conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, drug addiction, and depression. Where traditionally most disciplines have been siloed, the Friedman Brain Institute brings them together. “Scientific discovery is unpredictable, and advances made in one area have unintended advantages for many others. We want to capture those synergies,” says Dr. Nestler. For example, its researchers have found that some genes that play a role in autism are also involved in drug addiction, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. “By having this consolidated effort across the spectrum of illnesses, our scientists and doctors can recognize and learn from common mechanisms,” he says.

The institute also runs clubs that bring together scientists and clinicians across disciplines and roles. Examples include its Neurodegeneration Club, which gathers people from every Mount Sinai laboratory who study why nerve cells degenerate with clinicians to hear about patients. “Our animal researchers are now in the room with neurologists, neurosurgeons, and other clinicians, and we are able to capture common themes and mechanisms, all with the eye on looking for new, better ways to treat these illnesses,” Dr. Nestler explains.


“In less than 10 years, we’ve developed a top-five brain institute that can recruit the most impressive talent,” says Richard A. Friedman, a Mount Sinai board member whose gift established the institute. The neuroscience department is now ranked second in the country in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, its research has been featured in the top journals, and its faculty are

leaders of national and international consortia across brain diseases. But the most profound impact is the progress it’s making on new treatments for a range of disorders, including depression, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and Parkinson’s. It has also made advances in epigenetics, a field that studies how the environment affects gene expression, and new precision-medicine treatments.

How The Satter Foundation Has Helped

“The Satter Foundation was willing to make a bold commitment early on to support the institute’s mission and allow it to recruit significant talent,” says Friedman. Private funding like this is also essential to accelerate research. As Dr. Nestler explains, to get an NIH grant, a researcher needs substantial evidence that the project is worth funding. “It becomes a catch-22. Private philanthropy can provide the tools for the researchers to generate the needed body of information,” he says.

What's Next

“We plan on doubling down on our strategy,” says Dr. Nestler. The institute is also planning to evaluate its expertise in different areas to see where it could build additional capacity, including its capacity to run clinical trials. In addition, it will be collaborating with other efforts at Mount Sinai, such as its Drug Discovery Institute, where it will develop a center for neuro-therapeutics to drive new treat- ments. “We continue to work toward achieving breakthroughs that can change lives,” says Friedman.

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