updated 3/9/2007 4:21:33 PM ET 2007-03-09T21:21:33

A genomics venture by MIT and Harvard has won a $100 million grant to examine the genetics behind severe mental illness.

The grant — from the Stanley Medical Research Institute, a Maryland-based family philanthropy — will let the Broad Institute gather and analyze thousands of DNA samples from people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The work may take years but could lead to “new approaches for diagnosis, new targets for treatment, new understanding of which drugs to use in which people, and turn it into a rational science,” said Dr. Edward Scolnick, who oversees Broad’s psychiatric research. “That’s the Holy Grail.”

Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which afflict more than 6 million Americans, clearly run in families, but the specific genes involved have proven largely elusive.

The work will be done at the Broad’s new Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research.

The Stanley Medical Research Institute, with an endowment of over $300 million, calls itself the world’s biggest private source of philanthropic support for psychiatric research.

It is funded by Ted Stanley, 75, the founder of direct marketer MBI Inc., and his wife, Vada.

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