2013 Klerman-Freedman Prizes – Recognizing Exceptional Research By NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees

Brain & behavior research foundation

2013 Klerman-Freedman Prizes - Recognizing Exceptional Research by NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees

From The Quarterly, Summer 2013

Seven young scientists were recognized with the Foundation’s Annual Klerman and Freedman Prizes on Friday July 26, 2013 in New York City. These prizes pay tribute to Drs. Gerald L. Klerman and Daniel X. Freedman, whose legacies as researchers, teachers, physicians and administrators have indelibly influenced neuropsychiatry. The prizewinners are selected by committees within the Foundation’s Scientific Council, a volunteer group of 138 distinguished scientists across disciplines in brain and behavior research.

2013 Klerman Prizewinner for Exceptional Clinical Research
The Klerman Prize was established in 1994 by Myrna Weissman, Ph.D., in memory of her late husband, Gerald Klerman, M.D.

James McPartland, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Child Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of the Developmental Disabilities Clinic at Yale University, is being honored for his discovery of a novel electrophysiological ‘marker’ of eye contact that predicts social ability in children and is disrupted in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The new marker may enable early intervention techniques in very young children to slow progression of the illness and possibly even offer preventive possibilities.

In research initiated with his 2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant, supported by his Research Partnership with the Atherton Foundation, Dr. McPartland and colleagues have been measuring electrophysiological indices of social perception during the first months of life in infants at risk for developing ASD. The research team uses electroencephalography (EEG) to record electrical activity in the brain and coordinates it with eye tracking measurements of eye position and movement. To conduct their Experiments, the team developed a set of computer-generated faces capable of producing controlled, realistic gaze changes and emotional expressions.

The researchers measured brain activity in subjects during face-to-face interactions to measure eye contact as a predictor of social ability. They found diminished eye contact in children with ASD and their data showed abnormal developmental trajectories by six months of age. The team is currently assessing whether this marker can advance the objective of prevention by referring children before the onset of behavioral symptoms. They are also interested in using the marker to assess treatment outcome.

A graduate in psychology, magna cum laude, from Harvard University, Dr. McPartland earned a Ph.D. in child psychology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and completed clinical training at the Yale Child Study Center, where he began his independent research.

2013 Klerman Prize Honorable Mentions

Andrea Danese, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, is being recognized for his findings that maltreated children are at heightened risk for treatment-resistant depression, and for providing the first evidence that inflammation contributes to the development of depression among this group.

Dr. Danese studies stress and stress-related psychopathology in young people. He discovered immune and metabolic abnormalities in individuals with a history of childhood maltreatment. These often overlooked abnormalities are now showing great promise as targets for treatment of difficult-to-treat cases of affective and psychotic disorders. It was with his 2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant research project, supported by his Research Partnership with Vital Projects Fund Inc., that he linked inflammation in those maltreated as children with later development of treatment-resistant depression.

Dr. Danese trained in medicine and adult psychiatry at the University of Pavia School of Medicine, Italy, and in child and adolescent psychiatry at King’s College London, where he earned a Ph.D. He also studied epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Carmen Andreescu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, is being honored for identifying neural markers of treatment response in late-life generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Although the most prevalent anxiety disorder in the elderly, and more prevalent than depression, GAD has been the least studied, least understood and probably least treated mental illness in the elderly.

In her 2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant project, Dr. Andreescu administered the antidepressant citalopram (Celexa®) to a group of previously untreated elderly GAD patients. Post-treatment brain scans revealed significant changes in the neural networks involved in emotion regulation, including greater prefrontal connectivity. (The prefrontal cortex regulates complex cognitive, emotional and behavioral functioning.) However, a persistent problem with GAD is its high rate of post-treatment relapse. Dr. Andreescu is now applying her findings toward developing more personalized strategies so as to improve treatment response rates.

Dr. Andreescu is a graduate of the University of Medicine and Pharmacy “Carol Davila” in Bucharest, Romania. She was a fellow in geriatric psychiatry at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, before her faculty appointment at the University.

Daniel J. Mueller, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Head of the Pharmacogenetics Research Clinic at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is being recognized for his work to develop genetically based algorithms in patients to optimize individual treatment plans (personalized medicine).

In his 2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant project, Dr. Mueller and his team identified important gene variants associated with excessive weight gain induced by antipsychotic medications, which can lead to symptoms that shorten life span. Genetic predictors of negative metabolic effects would help to avoid trial and error switches of medication, improve patient compliance and help prevent premature death.

Dr. Mueller earned his M.D. at the University of Bonn, Germany, and his Ph.D. at Charité University Medicine Berlin. He completed postdoctoral fellowships at Bonn and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto. The research supported by his NARSAD Grant has been cited in 28 published papers (to date) by Dr. Mueller and his colleagues.

2013 Freedman Prizewinner for Exceptional Basic Research
The Freedman Prize was established in 1998 in honor of the late Daniel X. Freedman, M.D., a founding member of the Foundation’s Scientific Council.

Garret D. Stuber, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of North Carolina School Of Medicine, is being honored for his research to dissect the role of dopamine and non-dopamine neurons in the midbrain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in the transmission of messages between nerve cells, and midbrain dopamine neurons have been thought to play a major role in regulating behavioral responses in addiction, anxiety, depression and other neuropsychiatric illnesses. Little to date has been known about the mechanisms that control their activity, so the Stuber laboratory engaged a variety of cutting-edge technologies in an attempt to identify their role in mediating behaviors that might lead to new treatment targets.

A major boost in understanding dopamine neurons came with the lab’s application of a revolutionary new technology called optogenetics, which was developed by Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Scientific Council Member Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., while he, himself, was a 2005 NARSAD Young Investigator. Optogenetics combines optical and genetic methodologies to allow researchers to manipulate neural circuits and control behavior in laboratory animals with exquisite precision. Dr. Stuber states that his use of optogenetics has been “incredibly fruitful” and that “with the support of the NARSAD Grant, I was able to generate data that was essential for many other successful grant applications, including one from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.”

Dr. Stuber earned a B.S. degree in Psychology at the University of Washington, Seattle, in 2000, and a Ph.D. in Neurobiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005. After a turn as a visiting scientist at the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience, in Amsterdam, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco, where he began his NARSAD Grant-supported research. He returned to the University of North Carolina as a member of the faculty in 2010. 

2013 Freedman Prize Honorable Mentions

Research by David J. Foster, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is being recognized for his work, and the innovative tools he developed, to study the neural basis of memory. Nerve cells of the hippocampus region in the brain play important roles in the formation of memory and their dysfunction has been linked to disorders such as schizophrenia.

Dr. Foster combines advanced electrophysiological, computational and behavioral approaches in his research studies. In his NARSAD Grant-supported project, in order to investigate the coordinated activity of hippocampal neurons in mouse models of mental illnesses, he and his team developed tools that have allowed them to record and examine the simultaneous activity in large groups of hippocampal neurons in normally behaving mice.

Explaining the significance of his NARSAD Grant research, Dr. Foster says: “Our basic research promises to have a large impact on the future understanding of schizophrenia since we can now examine the neural mechanisms of functions such as memory and planning in precise spatial and temporal detail, and examine impairments to these functions in the huge array of genetic mouse models which are available.”

Dr. Foster is a graduate of Imperial College, in London and he earned a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience at Edinburgh University, Scotland. He joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2009.

Hiroki Taniguchi, Ph.D., a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, is being recognized for research toward understanding what causes the dysfunction in the GABAergic system that has been implicated in schizophrenia and autism. (GABA is a neurotransmitter that slows down activity in the nervous system.) Unraveling the development and function of different types of GABAergic neurons is critical to understanding how the normal brain works and how it loses normal functions in disease states. This has been extremely difficult due to the lack of reliable strategies to manipulate various subtypes of GABAergic neurons. This lack is what Dr. Taniguchi’s research is helping to address. 

Postmortem brains of schizophrenia patients show changes in a class of GABAergic neurons called chandelier cells. Dr. Taniguchi and his colleagues developed the first mouse-genetic model to identify spatial and temporal origins of chandelier cells, as well as strategies to study the life cycle of these cells, from development to function, in normal and abnormal brains. His results now make it possible to examine the hypothesis that selective deficits in GABAergic chandelier cells disrupt function in other cells called pyramidal neurons, leading to dysfunction in working memory, a condition typical in schizophrenia. These results now make it possible to ask many different questions about development and functions in the GABAergic system.

A graduate of Osaka University, Dr. Taniguchi earned a Ph.D. in Developmental Neurobiology from the National Institute for Basic Biology in Japan. Of his NARSAD Grant project, conducted as a research investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, he says: “the generous support of the NARSAD Grant … had a significant impact on my grant acquisition and career development. I won the most prestigious grant in Japan …” Dr. Taniguchi’s research was supported by a Research Partnership with The Essel Foundation.