Award ceremonies abound, from the Oscars for film to the Clio awards for advertising, but none are as important to mental health and psychiatry as the NARSAD annual awards. NARSAD is a unique organization that is dedicated to mental health research, and the NARSAD awards are considered to be the most prestigious prizes in psychiatric research. On October 30, NARSAD presented its 22nd annual awards for outstanding achievement in mental health research. This year the prizes went to 8 distinguished scientists whose work is making a huge impact on the way psychiatric disorders will be diagnosed and treated.
E. Jane Costello, PhD, and Adrian C. Angold, MD, of Duke University received the Ruane Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Research. In their ongoing epidemiological study, this husband and wife team is looking at a cohort of Native American youths. Their goal is to understand the development of mental health problems and the implications for treatment. The findings from this study have already shown marked effect of psychotherapy on behavior and mood of real-world children in the community. Higher levels of treatment (more sessions) were associated with lower levels of symptoms at follow-up.
Brenda Milner, CC, PhD, of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital at McGill University received the Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience. Dr Milner is a pioneer in the field of neuropsychology and a leading authority on memory and cognition in humans. “She is widely recognized as the founder of cognitive neuroscience—the field that brings together brain and behavior and helps explain key aspects of mental illness.” Her early work with patients who had undergone temporal lobe surgery to control seizures led to her interest in memory. Following surgery, some patients were unable to process short-term memories into long-term memories. Through rigorous experiments, Dr Milner discovered the existence of multiple memory systems, each of which controls different activities such as language or motor function. At 91, an age when most people would prefer to relax and take it easy, Dr Milner is still actively involved in research.
The husband and wife team of Ruben G. Gur, PhD, and Raquel E. Gur, MD, PhD, was awarded the Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research. Findings from their studies indicate that the physiological cascade in schizophrenia occurs before birth. The Gurs are looking for biomarkers that can capture vulnerability for schizophrenia by studying various aspects of the cascade.
Drs Nestler and Judd are the 2009 recipients of the Falcone Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorders Research. Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, at the Brain Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, uses animal models in his research at the molecular level to show how genes and environment interact to cause depression. Both genetic and biological factors play a role in the development of depression, but the level of risk for depression depends on a person’s lack of resilience. The findings from Dr Nestler’s studies suggest that the mechanisms of resilience and antidepressant action overlap, which can provide the means for novel treatments and diagnostic tests.
|Left to right: Award recipients Raquel Gur, Daniel Wolf, Eric Nestler, Lewis Judd, |
Ruben Gur, Brenda Milner, E. Jane Costello, and Adrian Angold, with Herbert Pardes (president, NARSAD Scientific Council) and Gail Saltz (emcee).
Photo credit: Charles Manley.
Lewis L. Judd, MD, PhD, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, has dedicated many years to the study of bipolar disorder. Long thought to be a series of acute, isolated periods, there has now been a paradigm shift in understanding bipolar disorder. As a result of Dr Judd’s research, bipolar disorder is now recognized to be a lifelong disorder that needs to be treated like any other chronic illness. The course of symptoms can change in severity and may be interspersed with periods of apparent normality, although subsyndromal symptoms are often present. For a better future course, patients need to be treated until they are symptom-free—asymptomatic recovery is better than residual treatment recovery. For optimal outcomes, Dr Judd recommends educating the patient, family, and others; ongoing clinical care; treating depression symptoms as rigorously as manic symptoms; treating to remission; and maintenance treatment to keep patients as symptom-free as possible throughout their lifetime.
The Sidney R. Baer Jr. Prize was presented to a “young investigator,” Daniel H. Wolf, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania for his work on the social, emotional, and cognitive deficits in persons with schizophrenia. In his work, Dr Wolf combines pharmacological challenges and functional magnetic resonance neuroimaging with detailed clinical and behavioral assessments to relate specific negative symptoms of schizophrenia to dysfunction in specific emotion-processing circuits in the brain. His findings may translate into the development of better methods for assessing novel therapeutic interventions.
Thanks to worldwide donors, NARSAD is able to provide grants to young as well as established researchers for work that will someday provide the means for a cure or even prevent these sometimes devastating disorders.
The NARSAD Young Investigator Award Programs provide research support to young scientists doing neuropsychiatric research. Awards of up to $30,000 per year, for up to 2 years, are granted to promising investigators to either extend a research fellowship or to begin independent research.
The Independent Investigator Award provides ongoing support to mid-level investigators, such as associate professors, who have successfully established independent re-search programs but not yet achieved sustained funding. Recipients receive a 2-year grant totaling $50,000 per year.
The Distinguished Investigator Award is a dedicated program to fund senior scientists, typically full professors, who are on the threshold of a breakthrough or wish to pursue a novel research idea. Recipients receive 1-year grants of $100,000.