Brain researcher at Hopkins takes job at Harvard

August 01, 1991|By Mary Knudson

Harvard University has lured Dr. Joseph T. Coyle, brain researcher and director of child psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, to Boston to chair a newly consolidated department of psychiatry at Harvard and eight affiliated hospitals.

The departure of Dr. Coyle is "a loss to Hopkins," said Dr. Paul McHugh, chairman of psychiatry at Hopkins. And Dr. Coyle, who officially started his new post earlier this month but was in Baltimore yesterday packing up his lab, said openly that he will try to draw some of Hopkins' other brain researchers to Harvard.

The tussle among top universities for brain power in the field has never been more critical, with the development of new paths of research expected to illuminate the genetic underpinnings of some major mental illnesses and neurological diseases and provide much new information on how the brain actually works.

"Understanding the brain -- that is the basic understanding of psychiatry," Dr. Coyle said.

While "the Harvard group has many strengths," Dr. Coyle said, it is "somewhat weaker" in the areas of basic brain research. And that is why he intends to recruit top basic brain researchers, he said.

In order to attract Dr. Coyle to Harvard, the dean of the Harvard School of Medicine agreed to consolidate the psychiatry departments at eight affiliated hospitals under one department head. Dr. Coyle said that the consolidated psychiatry department includes 1,000 faculty and is the largest department at the Harvard medical school.

Although a U.S. News and World Report national poll of doctors published this week ranks Johns Hopkins Hospital No. 1 overall, two Harvard-affiliated hospitals -- McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston -- took first and second place in inpatient psychiatric care. Hopkins was eighth.

In addition to his work in child psychiatry, Dr. Coyle, 47, is a leading investigator of degenerative diseases such as Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's disease. He created an animal model of Huntington's disease a decade ago and since then has collaborated with Dr. Susan Folstein, director of genetics in the Hopkins psychiatry department, on human trials of drugs to slow or prevent Huntington's, based on animal research. The professor of psychiatry, neuroscience and pediatrics, a Hopkins Medical School graduate, has been on the Hopkins faculty since 1974.

Dr. McHugh said yesterday that Dr. Folstein, who is also an expert on autism, will replace Dr. Coyle as head of child psychiatry at Hopkins.

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