A lot changes in 17 years. That period spans the lifetime of Tommy Fuss, who his parents describe as an outgoing, outstanding student with a wide network of friends. But 17 years also covers the time that RoseMary and Dan Fuss have now spent without their son, who died by suicide in 2006. They’ve devoted those years to preventing this tragedy for others, partnering with Jordan Smoller, MD, ScD, director of the Center for Precision Psychiatry (CPP) at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Tepper Family MGH Research Scholar 2014-2019, for more than a decade to address major unmet needs in mental health care by integrating cutting edge research and clinical practice.
“The state of mental health today is much different than it was 17 years ago,” RoseMary says. “It wasn’t foremost on the minds of parents, educators and other people who care for our children. With the increase in youth suicides, gun violence and the pandemic, it is now front and center. And it’s about time.” Now, with a generous grant from The Tommy Fuss Fund, which they established in Tommy’s memory to drive research and better outcomes in the area of mental health, RoseMary and Dan are helping take the Center to the next level. Their hope is that genetics research happening at the Center, paired with imaging and other tools, will reveal answers about the causes of mental illness, identifying biomarkers early and leading to better outcomes.
Driving the Future of Precision Psychiatry
The Center’s work to date has included developing algorithms to identify individuals at risk for suicide; building an app integrated into electronic health records at the point of care; leveraging artificial intelligence to predict which antidepressant will benefit a particular patient; and using genetic analyses to identify a new precision drug target for schizophrenia and factors that can prevent depression. The new funding from The Tommy Fuss Fund will help the Center expand its computational resources, attract the best scientists and support and train a new generation of researchers who can drive the future of precision psychiatry.
The work that Jordan is undertaking in genetics and psychiatry is incredible. I hope there will be ongoing collaborations as this center is up and running, bringing more people in to create a snowball effect with this research. We can move the needle in this area.”
“We want to create a broad-scale effort to look at factors that you would normally look at as indicators,” Dan says. “If someone had a family history of a particular type of cancer, doctors would be on guard if someone showed a minute symptom of that disease. That’s what we’re driving at for mental health. There have been benefits in treatment, but my prayer here is that we know where to look when it comes to suicide and mental illness.” For RoseMary, the shift toward genetic research is personal. “When we talk about Tommy, we have to talk about Tommy in the year 2006. It was a very different time,” she says. “The one thing I wish we had done was place more emphasis on the genetic factor, because it turns out there is likely mental illness on both sides of our families.”
Building a Scalable Approach
This funding will establish the Tommy Fuss Endowed Chair in Precision Psychiatry, allowing the Center to recruit a leader in precision psychiatry to become Associate Director of the Center, and to create an endowment to fund annual Tommy Fuss Scholars awards in Precision Psychiatry. The funding will also support the Center’s Annual Conference in Precision Psychiatry, which has become a leading venue to showcase advances in the field. “We are profoundly grateful for and honored by the Fuss family’s partnership,” Dr. Smoller says. “We truly believe that with this support, the CPP will be a world leader in establishing the paradigm of precision psychiatry — enabling transformative discovery, addressing crucial unmet needs, cultivating the next generation of top scientists and achieving our vision of driving innovation to implementation.”
For RoseMary and Dan, this partnership goes beyond the walls of Mass General. Their vision is that the Center’s approach becomes scalable and implemented nationally — and even internationally. As they know, mental health struggles can happen to anyone, anywhere. “The work that Jordan is undertaking in genetics and psychiatry is incredible,” RoseMary says. “I hope there will be ongoing collaborations as this center is up and running, bringing more people in to create a snowball effect with this research. We can move the needle in this area,” RoseMary says. “Who knows what the future brings, but we feel confident that Jordan and his team can lead us into that future.”
To learn more about the Center for Precision Psychiatry, please contact us.