Outstanding Achievement Prizewinner Makes Discovery, Progressing Research for New Schizophrenia Treatments

Outstanding Achievement Prizewinner Makes Discovery, Progressing Research for New Schizophrenia Treatments

Posted: October 10, 2011

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Amanda J. Law, PhD, 2011 Sidney R. Baer Jr. Prizewinner for Innovative Schizophrenia Research, has made ground-breaking contributions to our understanding of the neurobiological consequences of genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia.

Her studies over the years have provided insight into the role of a key neurodevelopmental pathway in schizophrenia, and her recent studies have identified new therapeutic targets within these signaling pathways. Dr. Law’s research is expected to significantly progress treatments for schizophrenia.

For the millions of people affected by schizophrenia, the development of new and improved treatments can seem an endless wait. Dr. Law is working to identify the key biological pathways associated with genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia, with the aim of developing novel therapies to correct or compensate for the malfunctions in signaling that can cause the illness. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is recognizing her very promising work on October 26 at the National Awards Dinner with the 2011 Sidney R. Baer Jr. Prize for Innovative Schizophrenia Research.

Genetic factors are known to play a key role in the development of psychiatric, neurodevelopmental and behavioral disorders. Dr. Law is using an innovative inter-disciplinary approach in her research that combines understanding gained from basic neuroscience with clinical genetics and clinical pharmacology. She and her team study the adult and fetal human postmortem brain, human and rodent cell systems and genetically engineered mice.

Genetic studies have identified several neurodevelopmental genes implicated in schizophrenia, including neuregulin 1 (NRG1), neuregulin 3 (NRG3) and ErbB4, but exactly how genetic variation in these genes alters brain development and function is still unknown. Dr Law’s research has demonstrated that genetic mutations in these candidate genes impact expression of specific proteins that regulate signaling in key neurodevelopmental pathways, likely affecting critical early periods of brain development. Recently, the team has used clinical pharmacology to inhibit one such aberrantly expressed protein in the identified pathway and found that it reversed schizophrenia-related behaviors in rodents.

These findings suggest the possibility of targeting this signaling pathway for improved treatment of schizophrenia in human patients. Dr. Law’s lab is moving toward studying the consequences of pharmacological manipulation of key components of the pathway in people at risk for schizophrenia. In addition to the studies of NRG1 and ErbB4 genes, she has recently expanded her investigations to examine a number of other interacting genes and pathways that have been strongly implicated in neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Her research findings have created a body of work that serve as an important platform for the development of novel and effective treatments for schizophrenia.

Dr. Law heads a laboratory at the National Institute of Mental Health, and since 2006 has focused on understanding genetic risk factors at the molecular and cellular level for mental illness, with a special emphasis on schizophrenia. Educated in the United Kingdom, she earned an undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Sheffield, and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Manchester. She did a postdoctoral fellowship in psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of Oxford and joined the Oxford faculty in 2003. In 2005 she received a Career Development Award from the Medical Research Council and was appointed to associate professor there and in 2006 was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant. She came to the NIMH In 2006 as a visiting scientist and assumed her current post in 2009.