10 Major Discoveries in 2013 by NARSAD Grantees

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Top Research Discoveries Made in 2013 by NARSAD Grantees

2013 NARSAD Grant-Funded Breakthrough
Kirsty Spalding, Ph.D.
Karolinska Institutet
Stockholm, Sweden

2007 NARSAD
Young Investigator Grant

Kirsty Spalding, Ph.D.

Basic Research: General Mental Illness
Innovative Methodology Quantifies New Neurons in Adult Humans

By carbon dating the birth of neurons in the human hippocampus,* Dr. Spalding and team have, for the first time, been able to identify the number of new neurons generated in adult brains. This important work furthers the idea that new neurons support cognitive functions throughout life and reinforces the possibility of enhancing this process to treat psychiatric illnesses.
Journal: Cell, June 6, 2013

Hongjun Song, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins Medicine
2008 NARSAD
Independent Investigator Grant

Hongjun Song, Ph.D.

Basic Research: General Mental Illness
Discovery of How Antidepressants Work Leads Toward Improved Depression Treatments

Dr. Song and colleagues performed a sophisticated series of experiments and analyses that led them to discover a protein that helps electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and antidepressant medications work. These results may enable future tests to predict an individual’s likely response to antidepressant treatment as well as provide a new target for improved treatments.
Journal: Cell Stem Cell, February 7, 2013

Marina Picciotto, Ph.D.
Yale School of Medicine
2004 NARSAD
Independent Investigator Grant

Marina Picciotto, Ph.D.

Next Generation Therapies: Depression
Discovery of New Depression Trigger and Treatment Target

Dr. Picciotto led a team of researchers in the discovery that a signaling chemical called acetylcholine may be central in causing depression, leading to a new hypothesis that it is the disruption of acetylcholine, and not serotonin,* that sets depression in motion. Targeting acetylcholine disruption may be a way to treat the root cause of depression and could lead to more effective treatments.
Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 11, 2013

Rene Hen, Ph.D.
Columbia University
Medical Center

2003 NARSAD
Distinguished Investigator Grant

Rene Hen, Ph.D.

New Technologies: Anxiety
New Way to Reduce Anxiety Symptoms Discovered

Using optogenetics,* Dr. Hen led a research team who discovered that selective activation of the dentate gyrus, a portion of the hippocampus,* can reduce anxiety in people with post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder without negatively affecting the ability to learn. By targeting this area with medication or deep brain stimulation it may be possible to relieve anxiety with no negative effects.
Journal: Neuron, March 6, 2013

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D.
Stanford University
School of Medicine

2005 NARSAD
Young Investigator Grant

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D.

New Technologies: General Mental Illness
3-D Imaging Technology Promises Breakthroughs in Brain Research

Dr. Deisseroth and his research team have developed a 3-D imaging technique called CLARITY that allows for a virtually transparent view of the inner workings of the brain and is expected to rapidly advance what is known about how the brain works, in both health and disease. For the first time, scientists are able to simultaneously look at “the big picture” of brain structure and the details of the brain’s complex fine wiring and essential features underpinning brain function.
Journal: Nature, April 10, 2013

Scott A. Schobel, M.D.
Columbia University
Medical Center

2008 NARSAD
Young Investigator Grant

Scott A. Schobel, M.D.

Early Intervention: Schizophrenia
Foundation-Funded Study Identifies Schizophrenia Early Warning Sign

Using neuroimaging, Dr. Schobel discovered that high levels of the neurotransmitter glutamate in the hippocampus* region of the brain may cause the transition to psychosis in people at high risk for developing schizophrenia. This suggests that increased glutamate activity can be an early warning sign for schizophrenia, and that controlling glutamate levels may be an effective preventive and/or therapeutic strategy.
Journal: Neuron, April 10, 2013

Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S.
Johns Hopkins Medicine
2010 NARSAD
Independent Investigator Grant

Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S.

Next Generation Therapies: Depression
Behavioral Therapy Program Achieves Weight Loss for People with Mental Illness

Project Achieve, led by Dr. Daumit, is the first weight loss clinical trial conducted with people with serious mental illnesses to account for cognitive and behavioral challenges present in mental illness. She found that people with serious mental illnesses can lose weight and keep it off through a modified lifestyle intervention program.
Journal: The New England Journal of Medicine, April 25, 2013

Joseph T. Coyle, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
2004 NARSAD
Distinguished Investigator Grant

Joseph T. Coyle, M.D.

Basic Research: Schizophrenia
Researchers Find Way to Increase Neuroplasticity and Treat "Negative" Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Dr. Coyle and team were able to reverse schizophrenia-like negative symptoms* in genetically engineered mice by giving them D-serine, one of two molecules required to activate NMDA receptors. This supports the theory that low activity in these receptors can cause negative symptoms in people with schizophrenia and indicates they may be reversible.
Journal: Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, May 31, 2013

Helen S. Mayberg, M.D.
Emory University
School of Medicine

2002 NARSAD
Distinguished Investigator Grant

Helen S. Mayberg, M.D.

Next Generation Therapies: Depression
Historic Study Finds Brain Scans Can Guide Depression Treatment Decisions

Using PET scan imaging, Dr. Mayberg and colleagues identified specific activity in the right anterior insula of the brain that can potentially predict whether people with major depressive disorder will better respond to antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. This new finding offers the possibility that a patient’s biology can guide treatment decisions.
Journal: JAMA Psychiatry, June 12, 2013

Joan L. Luby, M.D.
Washington University
School of Medicine in St. Louis

2008 NARSAD
Independent Investigator Grant

Joan L. Luby, M.D.

New Technologies: Depression
fMRI Brain Scans May Help Diagnose Depression in Preschoolers

In a first-of-its-kind study, Drs. Joan Luby and Deanna Barch used functional MRIs to compare images of activity in the amygdala* in non-medicated preschoolers with and without depression. Scans of preschoolers with depression showed more activity in the amygdala, providing the earliest evidence yet of changes in brain function in children with depression. Journal: Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,
Journal: Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, July 2013