Basic Research and Novel Therapeutic Treatments Pave the Road to Cures for Mental Illness

Basic Research and Novel Therapeutic Treatments Pave the Road to Cures for Mental Illness

Posted: December 30, 2011

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“What we’re interested in now is intervening early with family intervention, family-focused therapy, to try to determine if we can stave off the onset of the disorder, or at least make it less severe if it does occur.”

David J. Miklowitz, Ph.D., NARSAD Distinguished Investigator has been researching bipolar disorder for over twenty years. He is currently professor of psychiatry in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Dr. Miklowitz’s most recent research focuses the effects of family intervention on people living with bipolar disorder. He developed a treatment called family-focused therapy which combines family intervention with medication and hopes that this method will ultimately help prevent the onset of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents who are genetically at risk.

“What we’re hoping to do in our clinic and in our research is eventually develop a roadmap for a treatment protocol for adolescents and kids with bipolar disorder.”

This past October, Dr. Miklowitz was awarded the Bipolar Mood Disorders Prize by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Dr. Miklowitz was awarded this prize for his outstanding achievements working toward improving the lives of the 2.6% of the U.S. Population living with this illness*.
* National Institute of Mental Health


“The implication is clear that psychosis might be a separate diagnosis which has separate risk factors and might also require separate treatments.”

Elena Ivleva, MD., a 2010 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, is currently completing the final year of a research residency in psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Dr. Ivleva’s research efforts are primarily directed toward identifying and studying the cognitive, electrophysiological and brain-imaging markers of psychosis in neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and mood disorders, and finding new clinical measures to relieve psychotic symptoms. She has developed sophisticated measures to precisely track her work to identify overlapping and distinguishing characteristics of patients with schizophrenia and psychotic bipolar disorder, also associating these clinical behavioral symptoms with genes. Her brain imaging data should influence diagnostic development and deepen the genetic understanding of psychosis.

“What we’re trying to do in our work is to look at the psychosis as a dimension that cuts across diagnostic categories… Mainly, we’re interested in schizophrenia and psychotic bipolar disorder with an overall goal to identify these biological markers that could underlie the mechanisms of psychosis.”

Dr. Ivleva was the recipient of the Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Prize for Schizophrenia Research at the 2011 Brain & Behavior Research Foundation National Awards Dinner in October. The winner of this prize is selected by this year’s Lieber Prize winner and awarded to a NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee for innovative and promising schizophrenia research.

“What we are trying to understand is how genes translate at the level of brain and behavior. So if we think about how genes influence risk for cancer or heart disease, it’s a very similar approach”

Amanda J. Law, Ph.D. of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) received a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant in 2006 and focuses her research on understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms of genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia. Dr. Law is a senior research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health. Her work has proven to be highly translational and innovative, bridging the gap between basic neuroscience, clinical genetics and clinical pharmacology. Through studies of adult and fetal human postmortem brains, human and rodent cell systems and genetically engineered mice, Dr. Law’s research has provided insight into the role of a key neurodevelopmental pathway in schizophrenia. Her recent work has identified new therapeutic targets within these signaling pathways, research that will likely progress treatments for schizophrenia.

“Research has been my life. There’s never a dull moment. And I really think we have such a tremendous responsibility but we have such tremendous opportunity to make a difference to people who are suffering from these disorders.”

Sharing the honors with Dr. Ivleva, Dr. Law also received a Sidney R. Baer, Jr. Prize for Innovative and Promising Schizophrenia Research this past October from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. She was selected by Dr. Joel Kleinman, also from the NIMH and a 2011 Lieber Prize Winner in schizophrenia research.