NARSAD Grantees Selected for NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research Awards – Called “Visionary Investigators”

Amy F.T. Arnsten, Ph.D., of Yale University
Amy F.T. Arnsten, Ph.D.

NARSAD Grants are well known and highly regarded for their support of burgeoning and innovative research ideas that don’t yet have “proof of concept.” After the initial critical backing of their work with the NARSAD Grant funds, many grantees go on to receive sustained grant support that has proven to equal as much as 50 times the original NARSAD Grant amount. The recent announcement of the 2013 National Institutes of Health (NIH) High-Risk, High-Reward Awards presents an excellent example.

Five NARSAD Grantees are among the recently announced recipients of 2013 NIH Director’s Awards. These awards, presented in different categories, are designed to support a small number of investigators of exceptional creativity who propose highly innovative research approaches that have the potential to produce a major impact on broad, important problems in biomedical and behavioral research. They provide up to $500,000 direct costs per year for five years.

NARSAD Grantees Amy F.T. Arnsten, Ph.D., of Yale University; Edward S. Boyden, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Rafael M. Yuste, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University; and Mark J. Zylka, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill received four of the 12 NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards presented.

Sara Aton, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, received an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a category for exceptionally creative young scientists. These awards are for up to $300,000 in direct costs each year for five years.

These “visionary investigators,” says NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., are “pursuing science with the potential to transform scientific fields and accelerate the translation of scientific research into improved health.”

Dr. Arnsten, a 2008 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee, is Professor of Neurobiology and of Psychology and a Member of the Kavli Institute of Neuroscience at Yale, whose research led to the development of guanfacine (IntunivTM) for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and related prefrontal cortical disorders. Her Pioneer Award project is titled ‘Highly Evolved Brain Circuits in Primates: Molecular Vulnerabilities for Disease.”

Dr. Aton, a 2010 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Michigan. Her proposed New Innovator Award research concerns the role of sleep in memory formation; specifically, which features of sleep are necessary for a form of sleep-dependent memory consolidation called contextual fear memory. The title of her project is “Linking Network Activity and Intracellular Plasticity Mechanisms during Sleep Deprivation.”
Dr. Boyden, a 2008 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, is AT&T Career Development Associate Professor and Associate Professor in the MIT Media Lab and Joint Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Department of Biological Engineering at MIT. He works on developing new tools for analyzing and engineering brain circuits. His Pioneer Award project is “Millisecond-Timescale Whole-Brain Neural Activity Mapping in Health and Disease.”

Dr. Yuste, a 2012 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee, is Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator at Columbia and co-director of the university’s Kavli Institute for Brain Circuits. He is one of the authors of the Brain Activity Map article published in Neuron in June, 2012, cited by President Obama in announcing the national BRAIN Initiative. His Pioneer Award project is “Functional Connectomics of the Neocortical Microcircuit.”

Dr. Zylka, a 2006 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee, is Associate Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology at the Neuroscience Center at UNC. His current studies focus on enzymes in the brain that are mutated in some people with autism spectrum disorder, which appear to be involved with extremely long genes in mouse and human neurons. His Pioneer Award project is titled “The Elongation Hypothesis of Autism.”

Congratulations to the researchers – and, as always, our sincere thanks for all you do to improve the lives of those with mental illness!