Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain

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About Deeda Blair

  Deeda Blair

I am intensely committed to advancing transformative and transcendent approaches to mental health research.

Especially critical at this time, mental health must be treated as a global public health response to, and recovery from, the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”

-Deeda Blair, FNIH Board Member

By establishing this groundbreaking initiative, Mrs. Blair is helping to pave the way to broader understanding of the causes and effects for mental illness."

 -Maria C. Freire, Ph.D., President and Executive Director of the FNIH

With devotion, knowledge and perseverance, Deeda Blair has been a catalyst for bold medical research and scientific breakthroughs for more than five decades. Her passion for biomedical research and global public health, combined with her unique ability to convene individuals from business and science to marshal resources and ideas, allows experts to tackle some of the world’s most critical health challenges. Her efforts have accelerated groundbreaking research and generated discoveries in the fields of AIDS, infectious disease and cancer—work that is saving lives. Learn more about Deeda Blair’s work as Secretary and Director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), Co-Chair of the Harvard AIDS Initiative International Advisory Council, and Vice President and Director Emeritus of the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation by clicking here.

Now Deeda Blair is building upon her work by establishing the Deeda Blair Research Initiative for Disorders of the Brain at the FNIH. This unprecedented initiative provides flexible, unrestricted funding to scientists to help them explore creative, even disruptive, new ideas that will accelerate advances in diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.

Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, and Mood Disorders

The initiative has great personal meaning for Deeda, as it was established in memory of her son, William McCormick Blair, III. As a young man, William struggled with anxiety and depression and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 2004, Deeda and her late husband lost William to suicide. Now, through the initiative, Deeda provides support for innovative research about disorders of the brain, creating hope for the millions of people worldwide who struggle with mental illness and also for their families.

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About the Initiative

The Research Initiative was created to improve the diagnosis and treatment of severe mental illness, including mood disorders, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders. The intention is to accelerate basic research to discover new targets and approaches for therapy with unrestricted and flexible funding. The collaborations it facilitates will have the potential to save lives and prevent great pain and suffering. The program is administered by the FNIH.

Unlike a typical grant program, these awards are determined by a Scientific Award Selection Committee of independent scientists and thinkers. Awardees are encouraged to develop novel ways of thinking about the brain. In addition to transforming what we already know, these individuals or groups will seek new approaches to change our basic understanding of mental illness. Though the focus of the program is mental illness, it may help in an understanding of the brain and of its other diseases.


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Scientific Selection Committee

The following leaders from major scientific institutions, clinical practice and industry recommend rigorous and outstanding scientists for the awards.

  • Mark Daly, Ph.D., Co-Director, Program in Medical and Population Genetics, Broad Institute
  • Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., D.H., Chen Professor of Bioengineering and Psychiatry and Behaviorial Sciences, Stanford University
  • Ricardo Dolmetsch, Ph.D., Global Head of Neuroscience, Novartis
  • Maria C. Freire, Ph.D., President and Executive Director, FNIH
  • Paul Herrling, Ph.D., Head of Pharma Research, Novartis, (Retired) Professor of Drug Discovery Science, University of Basel; Adjunct Professor, Harold Dorris Neurobiological Institute, Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California
  • Thomas Insel, M.D., Former Director, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and President and Co-founder, Mindstrong Health
  • Husseini Manji, M.D., Global Head of Neuroscience, Janssen Research & Development, LLC
  • Samantha Boardman Rosen, M.D., Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry, Assistant Attending Psychiatrist, Weill Cornell Medical College
  • Andrew Solomon, Ph.D., Writer, Professor of Clinical Psychology, Columbia University Medical Center
  • Bruce Stillman, Ph.D., President, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Selection criteria and process

  • Awards will be granted to individuals of exceptional promise with a track record of innovative work. The Committee will identify and recommend such individuals. 
  • Awards will go to creative and imaginative individuals or groups who understand a perspective of mental health as a global public health problem. Their ideas may even be a challenge to the existing research in mental illness.
  • Consideration will also be given to early stage biotechnology companies where much innovation and translational research take place.
  • Through this process, standard conflict of interest practices will be strictly observed.

2020 Research Initiative Awards

In 2020, the Scientific Selection Committee selected three scientists, to whom the Deeda Blair Research Initiative bestowed its first three awards, totaling $400,000:

  • Christopher Bartley, M.D., Ph.D. at the University of California, San Francisco for his proposal to generate patient-derived monoclonal autoantibodies (mAbs) that will be used as mechanistic research tools to investigate the molecular and circuit-based underpinnings of psychotic spectrum disorders and other mental illnesses
  • Sarah Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D. at Yale University for her proposal to identify and validate early alert markers of relationship rupture in borderline personality disorder (BPD) using digital phenotyping
  • David Ross, M.D., Ph.D. at Yale University and the National Neuroscience Curriculum Initiative (NNCI) for his proposal to launch the ambitious next phase of his mission to modernize psychiatric education for the next generation of mental health practitioners

How to add your support to this initiative

All sizes and types of gifts are welcome, including cash, personal checks, stock gifts and bank transfers. Gifts can also be made through pledge commitments and bequests.

Instructions for contributing online:
Visit and designate gift to the Deeda Blair Research Initiative.

Instructions for contributing by personal check:
Pay to the order of:  Foundation for the NIH
For/Memo:  The Deeda Blair Research Initiative

Mail to:
The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health
Attention: Robert L. Balthaser
11400 Rockville Pike, Suite 600
North Bethesda, MD 20852

If you are interested in contribution to this fund or have questions, please contact FNIH Vice President of Advancement Robert Balthaser at 301-496-9921 or