NYU Langone Medical Center has received a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to establish a Silvio O. Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders. The center, named after the late Silvio O. Conte, a U.S. congressman and advocate for mental health research, will study the onset of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disease with cognitive dysfunction, affecting approximately one percent of the population worldwide.
The center, based on both NYU School of Medicine (a part of NYU Langone Medical Center) and the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, a New York State-funded affiliate located in Orangeburg, New York, will investigate the link between schizophrenia and dysfunctional brain N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDA). NMDA receptors are vital to learning, brain development, and the formation of short-term memories that the brain relies on to make sense of the surrounding environment. NMDA dysfunction is thought to play a key role in schizophrenia. The research conducted by the center will challenge the long-held belief that an excess of dopamine is the primary cause of schizophrenia, and will be led by Daniel C. Javitt, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at NYU Langone Medical Center and director of the Schizophrenia Research Center at the Nathan Kline Institute. The team also includes investigators from the University of California, San Diego; Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York; and Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel.
"Through our collective findings, this new Conte Center will allow us to move forward with research aimed at uncovering further the beginnings of schizophrenia to help develop more effective treatments for this debilitating disease," said Vivian S. Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, senior vice president, vice dean for science and chief scientific officer. "This grant recognizes the extraordinary researchers at NYU School of Medicine and encourages the collaborative efforts of experts in this field across several institutions."
A key goal of the center is to begin identifying pre-symptomatic individuals in adolescence in order to intervene before the disease's permanent effects take hold. Researchers will use tools such as EEG readings and brain scans to study how new NMDA-receptor-enhancing therapies affect patients as well as the effects of NMDA-receptor-blocking drugs, such as ketamine, in animal models of schizophrenia.
In addition to core research funding, NIHMH awarded the center an additional $150,000 per year to support a summer undergraduate research program beginning next year.
Since 1988, NIMH has encouraged scientists to seek funding for projects in which a unifying, well-defined scientific question would be approached by many angles and at many levels through its Centers for Neuroscience of Mental Disorders and Centers for Neuroscience Research. Each of the funded centers must be capable of conducting cutting-edge research with an eye for translation of basic research findings to mental health.