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2010 NARSAD Awards for Psychiatric Research

2010 NARSAD Awards for Psychiatric Research

NARSAD—The Brain and Behavior Research Fund, is dedicated to funding mental health research. Every year since 1987, members of the NARSAD Scientific Council have awarded prizes to outstanding researchers.

Recently, NARSAD presented its achievement awards for 2010—awards given to physicians and scientists doing cutting-edge work to better understand the mechanisms and causes of mental illness. This year’s award recipients are working in various areas of mental illness, ranging from schizophrenia to cognitive impairment. Their goal is to find a cure for these debilitating disorders and, ultimately, to eliminate serious mental illness.

Lars Vedel Kessing, MD, DMSc, from the University Hospital of Copenhagen in Denmark received the 2010 NARSAD Bipolar Mood Disorders Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorder Research. Dr Kessing stresses the urgent need for early identification and treatment of this progressive disorder. He and his group have undertaken clinical, epidemiological, and neurobiological studies of affective disorders, with a focus on unipolar depression and bipolar disorder. They are looking at a broad range of factors that affect the onset and course of mental illness. These include the effects of other illnesses, genetics, age, and gender, as well as the risk of dementia associated with depression and the effectiveness of current medications.

Ming T. Tsuang, MD, PhD, DSc, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, and director of the Harvard Institute of Psychiatric Epidemiology and Genetics at the Harvard Medical School in Boston received the 2010 NARSAD Lieber Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research. Dr Tsuang and his group are looking for biomarkers that would identify predisposing traits for schizophrenia in the hopes of finding ways to prevent its onset.

Stephen J. Glatt, PhD, of the State University of New York, Upstate Medical University in Syracuse is the recipient of the 2010 NARSAD Sidney R. Baer Jr Prize for Promising and Innovative Schizophrenia Research. Dr Glatt is focused on finding the causes of mental illness and preventing its progression through early intervention. His research centers on identifying biomarkers for schizophrenia expressed in the blood and brain of affected persons and their unaffected relatives. He and his colleagues undertook the first transcriptomic biomarker study of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They validated this approach by identifying transcriptomic changes in the blood that mirrored those found in implicated areas of the brain and are now working on transcriptomic studies that concentrate on greater genetic diversity.

Terrie E. Moffitt, PhD, and Avshalom Caspi, PhD, of Duke University in Durham, NC, and King’s College of London were given the 2010 NARSAD Ruane Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Research. Life and work partners, Drs Moffitt and Caspi have undertaken long-term studies to explore how environment and genes interact to shape human behavior and affect mental health. In one such study—the Dunedin Longitudinal Study at the Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand—Drs Moffitt and Caspi have been following 1000 subjects from birth in 1972 to the present. Multiple interviews through the years show that in 25% of the subjects who reported psychotic symptoms (eg, hallucinations, delusions) by age 11, schizophrenia developed by the time they were in their 20s. In contrast, schizophrenia developed in only 2% of those who did not report psychotic symptoms as children. The findings from this research have several implications.

• Theoretical: psychotic symptoms in childhood can be used as markers for risk of schizophrenia

• Scientific: new, sensitive interview models can provide ways to identify children for neuroscientific research into the causes of schizophrenia

• Practical: pediatricians can be alerted to actively evaluate children for psychotic symptoms

Robert C. Malenka, MD, PhD, of Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, Calif, received the 2010 NARSAD Goldman-Rakic Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience. The focus of Dr Malenka’s research is to clarify the specific processes in synaptic activity that affect learning and memory. Dr Malenka and his team are looking at the mechanisms that trigger synaptic plasticity as well as changes in synaptic proteins responsible for long-lasting changes in synaptic efficacy. Understanding these molecular processes and how disruptions in brain plasticity mechanisms contribute to mental illness is the first step in developing new treatments and finding ways to prevent neuropsychiatric disorders before they start.

In addition to presenting yearly prizes to select scientists for their research achievements, NARSAD supports young investigators with grants to help them on their way to better understand the complex workings of the human brain.

 

Left to right: Award recipients Stephen J. Glatt, PhD; Ming T. Tsuang, MD, PhD, DSc; Robert C. Malenka, MD, PhD; Herbert Pardes, MD (President, NARSAD Scientific Council); Terrie E. Moffitt, PhD; Lars Vedel Kessing, MD, DMSc; and Avshalom Caspi, PhD. (Photo credit, Charles Manley)

NARSAD INVESTIGATOR AWARDS

For more information or to apply for a grant, go to http://www.narsad.org/?q=node/164/apply_for_grants.

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 research programs but have 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 who wish to pursue a novel research idea. Recipients receive 1-year grants of $100,000.

 
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