The Richard J. Wyatt Award is awarded every two years at the IEPA Biennial Conference. It is awarded to an individual who has made a remarkable contribution to the area of early intervention.
Richard Jed Wyatt (1937-2002) was one of the preeminent figures of his generation of biological psychiatrists. A clinician, neuroscientist, educator, and mentor to a generation of current leaders in schizophrenia research, Richard spent his career at the Intramural Research Program (IRP) of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). His lifelong work on the course and roots of schizophrenia led him into research on sleep and imaging, mood disorders, psychopharmacology, biochemistry, neuroplasticity, tardive dyskinesia, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain grafts for Parkinson’s Disease. This and other work produced roughly 800 scientific publications and six books, and his many and varied contributions to the field of psychiatry were often seminal ones. Although we now take a biological basis for schizophrenia for granted, Richard was one of the early pioneers who championed this view and brought research on schizophrenia into the lab. He was the prototypical translational researcher.
Richard presided over a research portfolio that was as varied as it was innovative. For instance, his interest in the neuropharmacology of sleep led to the first report that monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) suppressed REM sleep and could treat narcolepsy. He and his colleagues also developed a platelet assay for monoamine oxidase (MAO), which eventually led to one of the first replicated biologic correlates of schizophrenia; the finding of low platelet MAO activity in patients with schizophrenia was seen at the time as a turning point in schizophrenia research. His laboratory at the NIMH tested numerous biochemical theories of schizophrenia, from the dopamine hypothesis, to abnormal methylation of indoleamines, to autoimmunity. He was instrumental in the development of a variety of neurochemical assays and in their applications in basic and clinical studies. His laboratory was responsible for several archival developments in schizophrenia research, including the first systematic brain imaging studies, the first brain tissue archiving for postmortem neurochemical analyses, and the first systematic approach to experimental therapeutics. Richard also launched a landmark series of studies of brain plasticity, long before it was widely appreciated as an important topic. His group was the first to demonstrate the viability of fetal substantia nigra grafts and of autologous adrenal medulla grafts to reverse aspects of experimental Parkinsonism. In the last decade of his life, much of his work focused on the potential benefits of early intervention in psychotic illnesses, and he continued to collect and analyze these data until the final days of his life.
As a mentor, Richard encouraged creativity; he believed in learning by doing. He pushed for new ideas, challenged old ones, and gave his associates the opportunity to pursue their own interests. It is said that Richard mentored more of today’s eminent schizophrenia researchers than anyone else before or after him and seeded a good half of all American institutions with his students and even some spread abroad.
Over the course of his illustrious career he received many honors and awards for his work. He was also a tireless advocate for raising public consciousness about mental illness and lobbying for increased research funding. He volunteered generously of his time and energies to help organize NAMI, to serve on the board of NARSAD, to serve as president of the Manic-Depressive Illness Foundation, and to lobby government officials. He was an active participant in the educational and executive functions of the ACNP. Richard also co-produced (with his wife, Dr. Kay Jamison) a series of programs about manic depressive illness and creativity that aired on public television.
Richard was deeply devoted to discovering the etiology of schizophrenia and developing new and effective treatments for those who suffered from it. He was always looking for new experimental treatments to alleviate the pain of those suffering with schizophrenia. Richard’s enormous contributions transformed the landscape of schizophrenia research. Psychiatric research owes an immeasurable amount to him.
What is the Richard J. Wyatt Award?
Richard J. Wyatt passed away on June 7, 2002. At the time, he was North American Vice President of the IEPA, and had been since its inception. Since the early 1990s, he had supported and advanced the scientific development of early intervention. In 1991, Richard published what many consider to be one of the seminal papers in the field of early intervention—“Neuroleptics and the Natural Course of Schizophrenia”. His interest in, and commitment to, this field was born from his many years of clinical experience and from his own careful research. Richard was one of the earliest pioneers who believed that early intervention was indeed possible. In 1996, he attended the first international conference focusing exclusively on early psychosis. Titled “Verging on Reality” and held in Melbourne, Australia, it was the catalyst to the ultimate formation of the IEPA. Richard came home from Melbourne tremendously optimistic that the colleagues from all over the world that he had met at that meeting could work together to effect real change in the way that mental disorders were identified and treated. His role as North American Vice President of the IEPA was extremely valuable and contributed immeasurably to the growth and success of early psychosis research and reform.
After his death in 2002, the board of the IEPA wanted to acknowledge not only his contributions to the IEPA, but also to the field of schizophrenia research in general. The 2002 IEPA meeting, which took place in Copenhagen that year, was dedicated to his memory, and the board sought the best way to recognize his contributions and keep his memory alive. Because Richard’s colleagues knew how pleased he would have been to see the idea of early intervention taken out of the realm of the theoretical and placed so solidly in the realm of the practical, they created the Richard J. Wyatt Award to honor his contributions to the field of early intervention in psychosis. The award is presented by the IEPA at each conference to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the area of early psychosis. The active legacy created by the Richard J. Wyatt award is a fitting way to honor his memory and the invaluable contributions he made to the IEPA and the larger field of psychiatric research.
2004 Professor Patrick McGorry