Friends Research Institute promotes health and well-being through research, grants administration, education and treatment.
“Maryland’s Shame!” screamed the headline in the Baltimore Sun in the spring of 1955 in an article describing the horrors of the care for Maryland’s mentally ill. The situation was desperate.
The Sun’s story detailing these patients’ plight attracted the attention of Baltimorean Edith Klotzman, who quickly rallied to the cause. Her passion was contagious, and soon her husband Aaron became involved. That summer, the Klotzmans gathered together a group of their friends and created a new nonprofit organization, Friends of Psychiatric Research, familiarly known as Friends. Aaron personally contributed $2500, representing 1/3 of the total first year’s operating budget.
Friends of Psychiatric Research was based at Spring Grove State Hospital and was dedicated to fostering research for the mentally ill. In 1960, Friends received funding for its first Federal grant for research. By 1962, the organization associated with Springfield State Hospital, and in 1964 Friends was appointed to conduct research for all seven of Maryland’s mental health hospitals.
During Friends’ association with the State of Maryland, there were a number of remarkable accomplishments. Friends instituted a “night hospital” at Spring Grove for women on the road to recovery from mental illness who still needed the hospital’s support. These women worked during the day, returning “home” to the hospital each evening. The program, one of the Nation’s first for disadvantaged women, was an immediate success. Friends also sponsored two vocational rehabilitation residences for developmentally challenged children in downtown Baltimore. Several drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers were also opened across the city.
Meanwhile, seeking new ways to serve, Friends launched two research projects…endeavors that would ultimately take the organization in a new direction. The first was a Neurological research project involving primates, requiring a new research lab and a move away from the State hospital sites. Also during this period, Friends was approached by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) to initiate lithium carbonate clinical trials with 600 patient volunteers. The study’s sponsor, a large pharmaceutical company, had difficulty identifying a sufficiently large number of patients with bipolar disorder. Discussions began with VA hospitals across the country to involve their patients. This was the first collaborative study for Friends and involved 22 VA hospitals. Lithium carbonate treatment was ultimately approved by the FDA and has become an invaluable tool in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
As Friends’ research projects became more diverse and more numerous, the name of the organization was changed to Friends Medical Science Research Center, Inc. Friends’ reputation was growing as well. Physicians, other health professionals and Principal Investigators were approaching Friends to administer research projects for them.
In June 1964, the Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, aware of the growing need to evaluate drug programs in the United States, sought Friends’ assistance, thrusting the organization into the national spotlight and into the fast-growing high-tech world of electronic data collection. The medical research community across the country took notice.
Dr. David Nurco, joining Friends in the mid ‘60s, began studying the impact of drug abuse on families and the community, establishing the Friends Social Research Center (SRC) as the organization’s primary research site. Today, SRC conducts research into the demography and effects of drug abuse on individuals, families, schools and the greater community.
Beginning in 1971, Dr. John Krantz, one of Friends’ original Board members, saw the need to treat drug abuse as a disease. His dream was to provide treatment for adolescent substance abusers, a cause for which he personally raised $167,000. But fulfilling this dream was expensive… an additional $450,000 was needed. Friends secured federal funding to support this care for youthful substance abusers, and the state of Maryland became interested and offered support. This marked the beginning of Epoch Counseling Center, now located throughout metropolitan Baltimore.
Today, state and county governments continue to support this essential program, and four Epoch Counseling Center sites are addressing the evaluation, treatment and referral needs of drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, prevention and rehabilitation.
The increasing number of requests for assistance with grants administration from VA hospitals led to the establishment of a Friends branch in Tarzana, California in 1975. The network of VA contracts and contacts continues to grow. Principal Investigators in California referred colleagues in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas and across the country. An additional California office was opened in Los Angeles.
Over the years, Principal Investigators involved in extramural studies funded by the National Institutes of Health began requesting Friends to administer their grants, including many pharmaceutical studies. And as the requests increased, so did Friends’ expertise, professionalism and efficiency, with staff providing outstanding, personalized service to scientists at a low overhead rate.
As a result, investigators were able to concentrate fully on their research while Friends handled the administrative details.
This modus operandi, fine-tuned regularly, continues today. Many investigators have been with Friends since the beginning; many new investigators join each year. Nearly 200 studies, including federal, state and private grants and pharmaceutical clinical trials are currently being administered by Friends nationally as well as internationally.