Six Outstanding Mental Health Researchers Honored by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Posted: August 3, 2021

Klerman & Freedman Prizes Awarded for AdvancingPrevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders

NEW YORK (August 4, 2021)The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) has announced the winners of its 2021 Klerman and Freedman Prizes, which recognize exceptional clinical and basic research in mental illness. The prizes are awarded annually to honor the work of outstanding scientists who have been supported by the Foundation’s Young Investigator Grants Program.

“The Klerman and Freedman prizes recognize innovative thinking and outstanding talent across the field of neuropsychiatry,” said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. “We applaud these researchers for their groundbreaking work, and we thank our generous donors for supporting scientists in brain and behavior research who are working to produce better treatments, cures, and methods of prevention for mental illness. The goal is to help more people live full, happy, and productive lives.”

The prizewinners are selected by the BBRF Scientific Council comprised of 180 pre-eminent mental health researchers.  

“We have identified the most promising, high-quality science with the greatest potential for significant breakthroughs,” said Dr. Herbert Pardes, President of the BBRF Scientific Council. “This year’s prizewinners have previously received awards though the BBRF Young Investigator Grant Program, which supports early-career scientists as they gather pilot data and “proof of concept” for promising clinical and basic psychiatry research. Recognition for scientists early in their career helps them go on to receive further funding and is a precursor to further accomplishments.”

Since its founding in 1987, BBRF has awarded more than $418 million to more than 5,000 scientists around the world. The Klerman and Freedman Prizes are named for Dr. Gerald Klerman and Dr. Daniel Freedman, whose legacies as researchers, teachers, physicians, and administrators have indelibly influenced neuropsychiatry.  

This year six scientists are receiving recognition for their outstanding work in brain and behavior research:

2021 Klerman Prize for Exceptional Clinical Research

Nicholas L. Balderston, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Center for Neuromodulation in Depression and Stress

Dr. Balderston’s lab uses experimental design, psychophysiology, neuroimaging, and neuromodulation to explore the mechanisms that mediate the expression and regulation of anxiety. The ultimate aim of his research is to provide the foundation for novel neuromodulatory treatments for individuals suffering from severe anxiety.


2021 Freedman Prizewinner for Exceptional Basic Research

Meaghan Creed, Ph.D., Washington University Pain Center, Department of Anesthesiology, Washington University in St. Louis

Dr. Creed seeks to optimize neuromodulation therapies for disorders of reward processing, specifically for affective symptoms of chronic pain and substance use disorders. The objective is to leverage insight from optogenetic circuit-dissection studies to understand how basal ganglia circuit function is altered by the comorbid experience of chronic pain and addictive substances, and then to apply cell-type specific pharmacology and electrophysiology to design neuromodulation protocols to alter circuit function and normalize symptoms of impaired reward processing.

2021 Klerman Prize Honorable Mention

Hengyi Cao, Ph.D., Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, Northwell Health West China Hospital

Dr. Cao’s research is focused on the investigation of neural mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. His lab combines imaging techniques, genetic analysis, and behavioral assessments to study how psychosis-related risk factors alter the structural and functional organizations of the human brain, and how these alterations lead to behavioral abnormalities observed in the clinic.

2021 Klerman Prize Honorable Mention

Nolan R. Williams, M.D., Stanford University

Themes of Dr. Williams’ work include examining the use of spaced learning theory in the application of neurostimulation techniques; development and mechanistic understanding of rapid-acting antidepressants; and identifying objective biomarkers that predict neuromodulation responses in treatment-resistant neuropsychiatric conditions.

2021 Freedman Prize Honorable Mention

Denise Cai, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

The goal of Dr. Cai’s lab is to understand how the brain organizes and integrates different experiences so it can efficiently “file” and “cross-reference” information, which is critical for daily life. The team combines cutting-edge techniques to gain key insights into how memories are initially processed, stored, and retrieved, and how these processes may be altered by trauma or aging.

2021 Freedman Prize Honorable Mention

Tomasz J. Nowakowski, Ph.D., The University of California, San Francisco

Dr. Nowakowski’s research is beginning to unravel how genes involved in mental health disorders are expressed across the many cell types of the developing human brain. His most recent work highlights a role of neural progenitor cells in the differentiation of cerebral cortical areas during development, and a novel role for developmental pathways implicated in autism, schizophrenia, and depression, in the early stages of brain development.

For more information: Klerman-Freedman Prizes

About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

BBRF is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. The Foundation funds the most innovative ideas in neuroscience and psychiatry to better understand the causes and develop new ways to treat brain and behavior disorders. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $418 million to fund more than 5,000 leading scientists around the world. This has led to more than $4 billion in additional funding for these scientists. 100% of every dollar donated for research is invested in our research grants. Our operating expenses are covered by separate foundation grants.


Myrna Manners, Manners Dotson Group