Leading Scientists Awarded $1.5 Million in NARSAD Grants by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Posted: August 9, 2011

Contact: Dianne Ackerman

Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Contact: Dianne Ackerman
E-mail: dackerman@bbrfoundation.org
Phone: (516) 829-0091


(GREAT NECK, N.Y. – AUGUST 9, 2011) The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded $1.5 million in fifteen NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants to fund highly esteemed scientists for research on brain and behavior disorders.

The NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant, the largest grant awarded to an individual by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, provides funding of up to $100,000 for a one-year study. Already distinguished by a record of extraordinary research accomplishments, these gifted scientists will receive the grants to support their most innovative ideas in diverse areas of neurobiological research.

The rigorous and competitive process of identifying the most promising ideas to fund each year is lead by The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation’s prestigious 124-member Scientific Council, a volunteer group of the world’s leading mental health researchers. Out of this year’s 170 applications, the Scientific Council selected 15 winners who will receive a grand total of $1.5 million dollars toward studies of brain and behavior disorders. The Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.

“The NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants provide funding for cutting-edge research that may not be supported by other institutions and may provide a faster track to real breakthroughs in treatment and prevention strategies,” said Benita Shobe, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation President and CEO. “The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded nearly $300,000,000 in grants to stimulate and advance discoveries by brilliant researchers aiming to help relieve the suffering of those afflicted.”

According to Herbert Pardes, M.D., president of the Foundation’s Scientific Council: “The selected applicants provide exciting approaches and ideas relevant to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation mission and the grants are designed to encourage seed funding for these superbly able investigators. An overwhelming majority of scientists doing psychiatric research have been touched in some way by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, and receiving a NARSAD Grant is considered to be an honor and a mark of quality.”

This year’s list of grant recipients and their studies include:

Dorret I. Boomsma, Ph.D., VU Medisch Centrum Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, is researching the genetic underpinning of mental illness. She will study whether twin data correctly estimates inheritability of brain and behavior disorders through an arduous process of matching data from 60,000 twin-families in the Netherlands Twin Register, which she established over 20 years ago, to a national database of pathology reports in the Netherlands.

William F. Byerley, M.D., University of California, San Francisco, and his team plan to study the genetic aspects of specific families which have multiple cases of schizophrenia from an isolated population in Micronesia, about 500 miles east of the Philippines, in the quest to identify common and rare genetic variants linked to schizophrenia.

Bruce M. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., Harvard University, in collaboration with the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, will examine disease-related abnormalities in brain cells to understand their links to mood and psychotic disorders. Since these processes cannot be easily studied in the living brain, Dr. Cohen and team will use recent technological developments to ‘induce’ stem cells from fibroblasts of hundreds of patients and control subjects. The work is expected to yield crucial new discoveries.

Michael S. Fanselow, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, plans to further his work in unraveling the neuronal mechanisms underlying PTSD.  He will use cutting-edge neural imaging techniques to discover the footprint of neuronal circuitry that is activated by PTSD-engendered fear memories which cannot be extinguished, versus those which can adapt to fear responses.

Suzanne N. Haber, Ph.D., University of Rochester, will conduct a complex and intensive study with animal models in an attempt to shed light on the developmental process of white matter in prefrontal cortical areas of the brain. Much is known about the importance of neural circuits involving the prefrontal cortex to a variety of severe mental illnesses, but little is known about the development of white matter tracts.  Highly sophisticated technology will be used, including rendering materials into 3-D images.  

Ralph E. Hoffman, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine, Yale University, will study some of the most perplexing, and least understood, aspects of schizophrenia, such as difficulties with narrative language and delusions. The research plan includes fMRI scanning using patients with schizophrenia and normal controls, and could result in new approaches to diagnosis and treatment.

Josh Z. Huang, Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, seeks to discover how the genetic alterations associated with behavioral symptoms of schizophrenia disturb the development and function of neural circuits. Using a genetically engineered mouse strain, Dr. Huang and colleagues will study a type of cells, termed chandelier cells, which are key to inhibitory circuits in the brain frontal areas, and are present in mice and humans.  

Lily Y. Jan, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco, is studying the role mother-infant communication may play in the dysfunctional development of social interaction and communication in major mental illnesses. In a creative new approach, she will use highly sophisticated technology in animal models that will also investigate behavioral and gene expression changes induced by drug treatment.

Stephen R. Marder, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles, will add pharmacological treatment, by administering oxytocin, to the training methods he and colleagues have developed to treat cognitive and social behavioral deficits in schizophrenia. The work may lead to improved treatments resulting in heightened sensitivity to social cues in patients with schizophrenia.

Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, is an expert in studying some of the most relevant steps in the control mechanisms by which synapses change and how they may be linked to cognitive impairments in some forms of mental illness. She seeks to identify new therapeutic targets by studying the repertoire of synaptically-localized mRNAs and miRNAs to investigate how they change with neuronal activity and how mutations can alter them.

Christos Pantelis, M.B.B.S., M.D., MRCPsych., FRANZCP, University of Melbourne, will test whether the active grey matter brain changes he and colleagues have identified at the start of illness in pre-psychotic young people are caused by inflammatory processes. To test this interesting hypothesis, he will take a creative new approach and use positron emission tomography (PET) and other forms of brain imaging in individuals at high risk for illness.  

Barbara L. Parry, M.D., University of California, San Diego, is studying sleep and light therapies for major depression in pregnancy and/or during the postpartum period. This serious public health issue impacts the emotional health of mother, child, and the family, and these novel treatments may improve symptoms of depression without the side effects of pharmacological treatments.

Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, will use extensive sample collections and methods developed in his program, combined with a new technology, in an attempt to compare key aspects of neurons from individuals with schizophrenia and those from control individuals. The proposed work will permit study of abnormalities and unusual gene expression and is expected to point toward new directions for treatment.   

Massimo Scanziani, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, will apply innovative approaches to study the brain circuitry of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. He will employ both chemical and optogenetic manipulations of neuronal activity in animal models to attempt to identify individual, genetically discernable differences in processing sensory information.

Flora M. Vaccarino, M.D.,Yale University, will investigate the genetic and epigenetic factors that govern abnormalities in key inhibitory neurons in severe brain and behavior disorders. By using recent methods of deriving human stem cells from fibroblasts, she seeks to understand the role the decrease in GABA neurons revealed in her earlier work, may play in schizophrenia and Tourette syndrome.

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