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For Immediate Release
Annual Award Recognizes Innovative Research by Foundation’s
NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees to Unlock Mysteries of Mental Illness
NEW YORK CITY (July 28, 2014)—The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation today announced the winners of its annual Klerman and Freedman Prizes, recognizing exceptional clinical and basic research by young scientists who have been supported by NARSAD Young Investigator Grants. The grants enable early career scientists to pursue innovative ideas in neurobiological and psychosocial research for the prevention, early detection, treatment and cure of mental illnesses that affect one in four people.
Six young scientists—winners of the Klerman and Freedman Prizes along with two honorable mentions in each category—were selected by the Foundation’s 146-member Scientific Council, comprised of the nation’s leading psychiatrists and neuroscientists, including two Nobel Prize winners; four former directors of the NIMH; 13 members of the National Academy of Sciences; 20 chairs of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments at leading medical institutions; and 45 members of the Institute of Medicine.
According to Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., the Foundation’s President and CEO, the prizes pay tribute to Dr. Gerald L. Klerman and Dr. Daniel X. Freedman, whose legacies as researchers, teachers, physicians and administrators have indelibly influenced neuropsychiatry.
“We are proud to honor these young scientists with the Klerman and Freedman Prizes for cutting-edge research supported by NARSAD Young Investigator Grants, the Foundation’s hallmark program that enables young scientists with innovative ideas to garner pilot data and go on to receive further funding,” says Dr. Borenstein, noting that recipients of NARSAD Young Investigator Grants receive an average of 11 to 19 times the original grant amount in subsequent funding. “This early recognition of their work by the Foundation’s Scientific Council often serves as a precursor to further accomplishments and awards, and their establishment as independent investigators.”
The 2014 Kerman Prize for Exceptional Clinical Research was awarded to Theodore D. Satterthwaite, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine, for his work using neuroimaging to identify the biological roots of major mental illness. Dr. Satterthwaite used his NARSAD Grant to conduct research with functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans to examine impairment of the brain’s reward system in people with bipolar and unipolar depression. He discovered a distinct pattern of activity in the brain’s reward system that may serve as a biomarker (biological predictor) for future treatment interventions and make it possible to distinguish between the two disorders in the early stages of illness.
“The support provided by the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant has been critical in promoting my research career, allowing me to implement a study of my own design at a very early stage of my career,” said Dr. Satterthwaite. “The award provided protected time for research during the vulnerable period of transition from clinical training. This support has allowed me to compete successfully for additional funding and progress to become an independent scientist.”
The 2014 Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research was awarded to Denis Jabaudon, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neurosciences at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and Senior Attending Physician in the Neurology Outpatient Clinic of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at Geneva University Hospital. Dr. Jabaudon’s research on the genetic mechanisms that control the identity of a wide diversity of neurons that make up the cerebral cortex, the brain’s center of higher cognitive processes.
In an elaborate choreography during development, these neurons assemble to form circuits that make it possible for us to perceive, understand and interact with the world. Dr. Jabaudon’s NARSAD Grant project showed that neurons and the circuits they form are not only more plastic than was previously thought, but can be manipulated to reverse-engineer specific functional circuits well after neuronal identity has been assigned. His ultimate goal is to develop cell-based strategies for manipulating these programs to promote rewiring and functional recovery from neurodegenerative disease or after injury, including identifying molecular targets to treat and prevent autism.
“The NARSAD Grant gave me the support I needed to turn a daring project into reality,” says Dr. Jabaudon. It allowed me to focus my efforts on a fundamental biology endeavor—the reprogramming of neurons and the circuits they form, while maintaining a long-term, disease-related perspective.”
The Foundation also awarded honorable mentions for both the Klerman and Freedman Prizes:
Klerman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Elena I. Ivleva, MD, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, and Aristotle N. Voineskos, M.D., FRCPC, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and Koerner New Scientist and Head of the Kimel Family Imaging-Genetics Laboratory at the University’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Dr. Ivleva was honored for her work identifying underlying mechanisms of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorder that may aid in future development of objective biomarker-based diagnostic tools.
Dr. Voineskos used his grant to study the effectiveness of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) in treating working memory deficits in patients with schizophrenia. Dr. Voineskos demonstrated that rTMS can improve working memory impairments, which significantly impede day-to-day functioning and remain one of the most difficult to treat symptoms of schizophrenia.
Freedman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Mazen Kheirbek, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University and Bo Li, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Dr. Kheirbeck’s research looks into how circuits within the brain’s hippocampal region contribute to emotional behavior and may be disrupted in mental illness. The findings of his NARSAD Grant research have elucidated impairments in the functioning of the hippocampus that appear to underlie the inability to discriminate among stimuli, impairments often seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorders, and may offer new approaches to treatment.
By studying the link between neural circuits and behavior, Dr. Li’s research is helping to define the synaptic and neural-circuit mechanisms in the brain that regulate cognitive functions such as attention, learning and memory, and the dysfunctions in these mechanisms that may underlie diverse mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
For more detailed information on the Klerman and Freedman prize winners and their research, visit www.bbrfoundation.org/Kfprizes.
About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation raises funds to invest in cutting-edge research projects to understand, treat, and ultimately prevent and cure mental illness. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded nearly $310 million in NARSAD Research Grants to more than 3,700 scientists around the world. Funded through private contributions; the Foundation invests 100 percent of donor contributions for research directly into its NARSAD Grants thanks to the generosity of two family foundations that fund operational expenses. For more information, visit bbrfoundation.org.