After receiving a $20-million donation from the Labatt family, the University of Toronto’s psychiatry department is launching a research network devoted to understanding the biological causes of depression.

According to U of T, the Labatt Family Network for Research on the Biology of Depression will establish two Labatt family chairs at U of T with connections to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). The donation will fund a professorship, several fellows, residents and scientists all dedicated to finding innovative methods to advance the current understanding of the biology of depression.

According to the Public Health Agency, mood disorders like clinical depression are “one of the most common mental illnesses” in Canada. Such disorders can also lead to physical symptoms, like fatigue or muscle pain. Events like the death of a loved one, financial difficulties and family conflict can impact mental health and behaviour the same way poor living conditions, isolation and disabilities can.

“Depression can be a crippling challenge to those who suffer from it and to their families,” U of T President Meric Gertler said in a press release.

“The Labatt family saw an opportunity at the University of Toronto to make a real difference. With their generous gift, our talented researchers in the department of psychiatry, and those working at institutes across the Toronto region, can begin making headway in how we understand the biological causes of this devastating illness.”

According to the U of T website,  the Labatt Family “network of talent” aims to build a biological model of depression, which will entice a better understanding of what causes the mood disorder. The donation will fund multiple research trajectories, ensuring a promising lead.

“The Labatt Family Network is truly a game-changer in the study of depression,” says Professor Trevor Young, dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “This support for the early, innovative work of clinician-scientists will allow them to pursue sustained interdisciplinary research that we hope will lead to a biomedical model of depression. This will help us understand how depression begins and develops across the lifespan."

The Labatt Family Network director will be Professor Alastair Flint, a geriatric psychiatry expert. The chair of the department of psychiatry in the faculty of medicine is now named the Labatt Family Chair with Dr. Benoit Mulsant as the inaugural holder. The Labatt Family Network also aims to develop the next generation of researchers by bringing students and young scientists to Toronto’s biomedical field to encourage new methods of discovery.

"A lot of donors give away money in exchange for a cure or solution. This gift is different. It's geared towards training a foundation of people to carry on researching the biology of depression instead of solely focusing on treatments and solutions," Dr. Mulsant said.

"This gift will fund scientific training, attracting young people to continue the field. It's an investment in the future. It is research focused on the patients of tomorrow." 

The announcement was made Friday at the Munk School of Global Affairs.