Seven UC scientists receive 2011 NARSAD Grants for brain and behavior research

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded $1.5 million in NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants to fund highly esteemed scientists for research on brain and behavior disorders. Out of the 15 NARSAD Grants, 7 were awarded to scientists from the faculties of the University of California.

The University of California has been a major beneficiary of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, receiving more than $25,000,000 in NARSAD Grants since the mental health research organization's inception in 1987. Surpassing Harvard, Columbia and Yale Universities, the University of California is the largest cumulative recipient of NARSAD Grant funding. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded $300,000,000 in research grants to scientists worldwide.

The NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant, the largest grant awarded to an individual by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, provides funding of up to $100,000 for a one-year study. Already distinguished by a record of extraordinary research accomplishments, these gifted scientists will receive the grants to support their most innovative ideas in diverse areas of neurobiological research. The Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.

"The NARSAD Grant will allow me to begin a new area of research," said 2011 NARSAD Grant recipient Stephen R. Marder, M.D., of University of California, Los Angeles. "My research will focus on studying promising medications which may improve the ability of schizophrenia patients to improve their social skills."

"The University of California has consistently placed itself in the fore as a leader for mental health research breakthroughs," said Benita Shobe, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation President and CEO. "We are proud to support these brilliant scientists and their cutting-edge research to help relieve the suffering of those afflicted by mental illness."

In addition to NARSAD Grants, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded many renowned University of California faculty members with Lifetime Achievement Prizes over the years, including Ming T. Tsuang, Hagop S. Akiskal, M.D., Lori L. Altshuler, M.D., William E. Bunney, Jr., M.D., Joaquin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D., and Lewis L. Judd, M.D. Additionally, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has been a leader in promoting research symposia in mental health in the state of California. The "Healthy Minds Across America" annual symposia programs in 2008 and 2010 featured 37 presentations by top faculty members of California institutions.

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation supports and recognizes scientists at every stage of their careers, and the Distinguished Investigator NARSAD Grants is one of the most competitive and coveted in neurobiology. The rigorous process of identifying the most promising ideas to fund each year is led by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation's prestigious 130-member Scientific Council, a volunteer group of the world's leading mental health researchers — 12 of whom are faculty members of leading California universities and research institutions. Out of this year's 174 applications, the Scientific Council selected 15 winners who will receive a total of $1.5 million dollars toward studies of brain and behavior disorders.

The University of California list of grant recipients and their studies include:

William F. Byerley, M.D., University of California, San Francisco, and his team plan to study the genetic aspects of specific families which have multiple cases of schizophrenia from an isolated population in Micronesia, about 500 miles east of the Philippines, in the quest to identify common and rare genetic variants linked to schizophrenia.

Michael S. Fanselow, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, plans to further his work in unraveling the neuronal mechanisms underlying PTSD. He will use cutting-edge neural imaging techniques to discover the footprint of neuronal circuitry that is activated by PTSD-engendered fear memories which cannot be extinguished, versus those which can adapt to fear responses.

Lily Y. Jan, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco, is studying the role mother-infant communication may play in the dysfunctional development of social interaction and communication in major mental illnesses. In a creative new approach, she will use highly sophisticated technology in animal models that will also investigate behavioral and gene expression changes induced by drug treatment.

Stephen R. Marder, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles, will add pharmacological treatment, by administering oxytocin, to the training methods he and colleagues have developed to treat cognitive and social behavioral deficits in schizophrenia. The work may lead to improved treatments resulting in heightened sensitivity to social cues in patients with schizophrenia.

Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, is an expert in studying some of the most relevant steps in the control mechanisms by which synapses change and how they may be linked to cognitive impairments in some forms of mental illness. She seeks to identify new therapeutic targets by studying the repertoire of synaptically-localized mRNAs and miRNAs to investigate how they change with neuronal activity and how mutations can alter them.

Barbara L. Parry, M.D., University of California, San Diego, is studying sleep and light therapies for major depression in pregnancy and/or during the postpartum period. This serious public health issue impacts the emotional health of mother, child, and the family, and these novel treatments may improve symptoms of depression without the side effects of pharmacological treatments.

Massimo Scanziani, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego, will apply innovative approaches to study the brain circuitry of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. He will employ both chemical and optogenetic manipulations of neuronal activity in animal models to attempt to identify individual, genetically discernable differences in processing sensory information.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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