Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 5)

Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 5)

Posted: February 28, 2011

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In January NARSAD announced grant awards to 214 new Young Investigators. Totaling $12.6 million, these grants are part of the continued investment NARSAD makes in brilliant researchers with the most promising ideas to lead to breakthroughs in understanding and treating mental illness. (Click here to read the Young Investigator press release.)

Last month we started a blog series that continues with this post and features feedback from some of the new Young Investigators who represent a new generation of researchers.

Here’s what some of the Young Investigators had to say about their NARSAD grants:

Receiving a NARSAD Young Investigator grant is a huge honor, and I am deeply thankful to NARSAD and to the people who donate to this organization. Understanding the science behind psychiatric illness is the best way that we can help those who have or who are impacted by these diseases. The low level of funding currently available for mental health projects makes it easy for a young researcher to get lost and frustrated while trying to become established. Because of the generosity of NARSAD, I can focus for the next two years on my research of food antigens and immune activation, and hope to make some discoveries that could lead to alternative ways of diagnosing and treating people with psychiatric disorders.
Emily Severance, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University

It is of great honor for me to be the recipient of a NARSAD Young Investigator grant for the study of memory in PTSD. I now have a rare opportunity to conduct an extensive analysis of trauma-memory modification and its role in the onset of and recovery from PTSD, among various traumatized groups, including those exposed to extreme man-made trauma. The notion that memory is subject to modification as it undergoes re-consolidation processes over time gives much hope for the treatment of PTSD. As such, the findings of the study may potentially bring new insight into the possibility of altering/erasing trauma-memory as a means towards recovery. On a more personal note, growing up in Israel as a second generation Holocaust survivor, I hope that the study’s findings will make a difference in the lives of peoples living in the Middle East region who are victims of war and trauma.
Sharon Dekel, Ph.D.
Tel-Aviv University

We hope that work supported through the NARSAD Young Investigator award will determine second messenger targets that will lead to new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of schizophrenia. We have developed an assay that allows us to determine specific enzymes acting on individual phosphorylation sites in live cells. For the NARSAD grant, I will be working to identify in vivo target kinases and phosphatases that act to modulate the transcription factor Elk-1. Successfully completing this project will provide information that is relevant for not only for the normal function of cells, but also for cells in dysfunctional states such as schizophrenia, and other disease states.
Terri Schochet, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania

By receiving a NARSAD Young Investigator award, I will not only be able to examine potential neurodevelopmental markers of bipolar disorder but will also learn cutting-edge research tools that could profoundly impact my scientific career path. My proposal focuses on resting state connectivity in newborns at risk for bipolar disorder. Resting state connectivity is a specific fMRI technique that has only been used in a small handful of studies with infants, and none have examined infants at risk for mental illness. In the context of my NARSAD-funded study, I will be trained to use these new brain imaging techniques to examine whether infants of bipolar mothers have weaker connections between cortical “emotion-regulating” networks and subcortical “emotion-activating” networks in the brain. This novel application of functional resting state connectivity may facilitate a better understanding of familial risk transmission for bipolar illness, and my training in this area will be invaluable in advancing my scientific skills in neuroimaging and neurodevelopment.
Katrina C. Johnson, Ph.D.
Emory University School of Medicine

It is an honor to receive a NARSAD Young Investigator award, one of the most prestigious awards for new scientists involved in mental health-related research. This award allows me not only to investigate the functionality of new neurons generated by antidepressant treatment, but also to lay the foundation for doing more in terms of future research. I would like to express my sincere thanks to the NARSAD Scientific Council and the generous donors.
Elham Satvat, Ph.D.
Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario

The 2010 Young Investigator award allows me to study a question partly derived from the observations of the patients with the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome: Why is it that some carriers of this genetic abnormality develop schizophrenia (approximately 30%) while the remaining individuals (70%) with the same genetic disorder don’t? The question is relevant beyond the scope of the 22q11.2 deletion syndrome given the high number of similar genetic abnormalities (called copy number variants or CNVs) elsewhere on the genome, identified in schizophrenia patients. While the increased risk for schizophrenia in many of these CNVs is clearly evident, in all cases the majority of carriers of such a CNV do not develop schizophrenia. This urges the question: What other factors influence the development of schizophrenia in the presence of these genetic abnormalities? One possibility is a second mutation on the same genomic spot where the CNV is present. In that case the gene is affected by two hits, which is why I have termed this hypothetical scenario “the double hit.” With the help of NARSAD I hope to be able to investigate whether the double hit scenario is relevant to schizophrenia. I am truly grateful to all donors who make this research possible with their generosity.
Jacob Vorstman, M.D., Ph.D.
University Medical Center Utrecht
The Netherlands

I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The NARSAD Young Investigator award will support my ongoing studies of metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGlu5), a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of schizophrenia. It is believed that activation of mGlu5 will be beneficial in treating all three symptom clusters of schizophrenia, signifying an improvement of existing antipsychotics. My work is focused on understanding how allosteric enhancers bind to and improve the function of mGlu5 in order to facilitate rational drug design efforts.
Karen J. Gregory, Ph.D
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

by Barbara Wheeler, NARSAD manager of communications and media relations