Our Impact:
30 Years of Advancements in Research


Basic Research

In 2008, Foundation Scientific Council Member Mary-Claire King, Ph.D. from the University of Washington—widely known for her discovery of a mutation in a gene she named BRCA1 that led to powerful breast cancer diagnostics— led research teams in the discovery of rare genetic mutations found in high volumes in people with schizophrenia.

Mary-Claire King, Ph.D. - Brain and behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Mary-Claire King, Ph.D.

American Cancer Society Professor

Professor, Medical Genetics

Professor, Genome Sciences

Adjunct Professor, Epidemiology

Department of Medicine and the Department of Genome Sciences

University of Washington-Seattle

Scientific Council Member (Joined 2009)

2006 Distinguished Investigator Grant

Mary-Claire King was the first to prove that breast cancer is inherited in some families as the result of mutations in the gene that she named BRCA1. In addition to inherited breast and ovarian cancer, her research interests include the genetic basis of schizophrenia and human genetic diversity and evolution. She also pioneered the use of DNA sequencing for human rights investigations, developing the approach of sequencing mitochondrial DNA preserved in human remains, then applying this method to the identification of kidnapped children in Argentina and subsequently to cases of human rights violations on six continents.

Dr. King received her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of California at Berkeley, where her dissertation in 1973 demonstrated that humans and chimpanzees are 99% genetically identical. Dr. King has served on the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health and the National Commission on Breast Cancer of the President’s Cancer Panel.


Next generation therapies

With the help of a Young Investigator Grant, Scientific Council Member Mark S. George, M.D. developed Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a new kind of non-invasive brain stimulation as an alternative for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in treatment-resistant depression. In 1995, unable to get NIH funding for TMS, a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant allowed the work to gather important clinical information and served as "bridge" funding to set the stage for the emergence of this industry.

Mark S. George, M.D.
Mark S. George, M.D.

Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Radiology and Neuroscience

Founding Director, Center for Advanced Imaging Research

Director, Brain Stimulation Laboratory, Psychiatry

Medical University of South Carolina

Scientific Council Member (joined 2007)

2008 Falcone Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Affective Disorders Research (Colvin Prize)

1998 Independent Investigator Grant

1996 Young Investigator Grant

Dr. George pioneered the use of TMS as a probe of mood-regulating neuronal circuits, conducting some of the first clinical trials of TMS as a treatment for persistent depression, which was FDA-approved in 2008. This work stemmed from his research with fellow Scientific Council Member Robert M. Post, M.D., at the NIMH, where he was one of the first to use functional imaging to assess brain changes associated with normal emotions and those that occur in depression and mania. In 1995, at the Medical University of South Carolina, he founded the functional neuroimaging division and brain stimulation laboratories, now known as the Center for Advanced Imaging Research. He went on to pioneer another treatment for resistant depression, VNS, also recently FDA-approved.

Dr. George received his bachelor of science degree from Davidson College and his M.D. from the Medical University of South Carolina.


Next generation therapies

Carlos A. Zarate, Jr., M.D., of the National Institute of Mental Health used a 2005 NARSAD Independent Investigator Grant to further studies on what is being heralded by experts as the biggest change in the treatment of depression in the last 50 years. The goal of his project was to develop new, improved and more rapidly-acting therapies for treatment-resistant major depression.

Carlos A. Zarate, M.D. - Brain & Behavior Research Expert on Depression
Carlos A. Zarate, Jr., M.D.

Chief, Experimental Therapeutics & Pathophysiology Branch and Section on the Neurobiology and Treatment of Mood Disorders

National Institute of Mental Health

2011 Bipolar Mood Disorders Award Prizewinner (Colvin Prize)

2005 Independent Investigator Grant

1996 Young Investigator Grant

Carlos A. Zarate, M.D., a NARSAD Independent Investigator Grantee (2005), has pioneered revolutionary studies that have led to novel treatments for mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder that begin working much faster than previous options. Dr. Zarate is Chief of Experimental Therapeutics of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University. With a strong focus on the pathophysiology of severe mental illnesses, his goal is to develop better treatments particularly for patients living with depression, bipolar disorder and/or other mood disorders. His research into a drug called Ketamine has resulted in rapid-acting depression treatments that work within hours and last 3-5 days or more. Because of the speed at which this drug reacts within the body and the duration of its effects, it is possible that emergency room doctors may have a possible treatment for those suffering from depression and acute suicidality.

“For me it’s an exciting time to be a researcher. We didn’t have much of these technologies even a decade ago and now we have all these options and possibilities. And that will definitely, and it has, led to an increased understanding of what are the causes of the illness, maybe what are potentially promising targets to develop better treatments. These things we didn’t have in recent past.”

Dr. Zarate was recognized for this discovery and his career of work at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation National Awards Dinner in New York City in October 2011 with the Bipolar Mood Disorder Outstanding Achievement Prize (renamed the Colvin Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorders Research in 2012).


Basic Research

Francis S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., of Weill Cornell Medical College, was the recipient of two Foundation Young Investigator Grants (in 2005 and 2002) that supported research on growth factors called NGF (nerve growth factor) and BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which support the birth and growth of new brain cells. Dr. Lee wanted to see if there were alternate ways to activate these growth factor receptors in order to identify novel targets for next-generation therapies for a broad range of mental illnesses.

Francis S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D. - Brain & behavior research expert on mental illness
Francis S. Lee, M.D., Ph.D.

Vice Chair for Research, Department of Psychiatry

Weill Cornell Medical College

Scientific Council Member (Joined 2012)

2010 Independent Investigator Grant

2005, 2002 Young Investigator Grant

Dr. Lee is a pioneer in using cell biological and animal model systems to understand the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric disorders. In particular, his research is focused on using genetic models to delineate the role of growth factors, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), in complex behaviors related to affective disorders. His laboratory has produced one of the first mouse models of a human genetic variant that has led to insights into the molecular and genetic basis of anxiety. This research provides a first step in using model systems of human genetic variants to test novel therapeutics, and also to devise biomarker strategies determining who will and will not respond to psychiatric medications.

Dr. Lee received his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, followed by psychiatry residency training at Payne Whitney Clinic and postdoctoral training in molecular neuroscience at New York University and the University of California, San Francisco.


New technologies

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D., used his 2005 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to develop optogenetics, a new technology that has revolutionized systems neuroscience by providing precise control over brain circuitry in awake, behaving animals. Optogenetics involves the use of light to rapidly open and close the membrane channels that make neurons fire and cease firing and allows for observation of the effects on behavior.

Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D.
Karl Deisseroth, M.D., Ph.D.

D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator

Stanford University

Scientific Council Member (Joined 2008)

2013 Goldman-Rakic Prizewinner for Outstanding Achievement in Cognitive Neuroscience

2007, 2005 Young Investigator Grant

Dr. Deisseroth coined the term “optogenetics” to name the breakthrough technology he developed that uses light to control millisecond-precision activity patterns in genetically-defined cell types within the brains of freely moving animals. His laboratory and thousands of others around the globe are now applying this technology to probe the dynamics of neural circuits in both healthy and diseased brains.

Dr. Deisseroth received his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Harvard in 1992, his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1998, and his M.D. from Stanford in 2000. He completed postdoctoral training, medical internship and adult psychiatry residency at Stanford, and he was board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in 2006. While continuing as a practicing psychiatrist specializing in mood disorders and autism-spectrum disease, Dr. Deisseroth teaches and serves as the chair of undergraduate education in bioengineering at the Stanford University School of Engineering.

Watch Dr. Deisseroth's prizewinner video.


Next generation therapies

In groundbreaking work, Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D., with the aid of a Young Investigator Grant, discovered that targeted medication can improve the effect of psychotherapy. This paradigm-shifting work showed that treatment with D-cycloserine (or DCS) enhanced the effect of exposure-based psychotherapy for fear of heights, and led to further work showing similar results for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and social phobia.

Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D.
Kerry J. Ressler, M.D., Ph.D.

Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Co-Director, Emory MD/PhD Training Program

Center for Behavioral Neuroscience

Emory University School of Medicine

Scientific Council Member (Joined 2009)

2017 Distinguished Investigator Grant

2009 Freedman Prizewinner for Exceptional Basic Research

2005, 2002 Young Investigator Grant

Dr. Ressler’s work focuses on translational research that bridges basic studies of the mechanisms of fear in animal models with clinical research on the genetics that underlie human fear and anxiety disorders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Based on the premise that the neurobiology of emotional learning provides tremendous insight into fear-related disorders, Dr. Ressler’s preclinical laboratory is examining the molecular neurobiology of brain systems that mediate fear and emotion in animals, concentrating on the amygdala, a key brain region involved.

Dr. Ressler received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology at MIT and received an M.D., Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. In 1992 at Harvard, he was the first student of Dr. Linda Buck, helping to identify the molecular organization of the odorant receptor family in mice, part of the body of work for which she shared the Nobel Prize in 2004.

Meet the Scientist Webinar

Updates on the Science Behind PTSD


Basic Research

Daniel Weinberger, M.D., received a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant in 2000 to take an innovative approach in the search to identify genes that increase susceptibility for developing schizophrenia. Dr. Weinberger worked with 400 sibling pairs and measured levels of the brain chemical n-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), a neurochemical measure related to the integrity of glutamate neurons, to determine if this could be linked with targeted genetic association studies in schizophrenia.

Daniel Weinberger, M.D. - Brain & behavior research expert on schizophrenia
Daniel Weinberger, M.D.

Director and CEO

Lieber Institute for Brain Development

Scientific Council Member (Joined 1997)

2000, 1990 Distinguished Investigator Grant

1993 Lieber Prizewinner for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research

Dr. Weinberger’s research has focused on brain mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia. He was instrumental in focusing research on the role of abnormal brain development as a risk factor for schizophrenia. His lab identified the first genetic effects that account for variation in specific human cognitive functions and in human temperament and identified brain mechanisms related to a number of genes that have been implicated in causing psychosis, including COMT, GRM3, KCNH2, DISC1, NRG1 and ERBB4. He and his colleagues developed the first high fidelity animal model of schizophrenia. In 2003, Science magazine highlighted the genetic research of his lab as the second biggest scientific breakthrough of the year, second to the origins of the cosmos.

Dr. Weinberger was formerly Director of the Genes, Cognition, and Psychosis Program of the Intramural Research Program at the NIMH.


Next generation therapies

Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) was developed in the late 1980s; however, it was not tested as a potential treatment for resistant depression until Helen Mayberg, M.D., used a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant in 2003 to do pilot studies. Dr. Mayberg hypothesized that DBS could be targeted to a section of the brain called the subcallosal cingulate (also known as “Brodmann Area 25”) that she had identified as linked to depression in earlier research. By targeting this area, depression symptoms in patients have been greatly reduced and in some cases, patients are in complete remission.

Helen Mayberg, M.D.
Helen Mayberg, M.D.

Senior Faculty Neurosurgery, Neurology, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry

Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Scientific Council Member (Joined 2004)

2007 Falcone Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Affective Disorders Research (Colvin Prize)

2002 Distinguished Investigator Grant

1995 Independent Investigator Grant

1991 Young Investigator Grant

Dr. Mayberg leads a multidisciplinary research program committed to defining the “neurology of depression.” Her imaging studies over the past 20 years have systematically examined functional abnormalities characterizing the disorder, as well as neural mechanisms mediating antidepressant response to various evidence-based treatments. The goal of her studies is to identify neurobiological markers predicting treatment response and optimized treatment selection. Her long-term interest in neural network models of mood regulation in health and disease led to the development of a new intervention for treatment-resistant patients using Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), a study initiated at the University of Toronto and now continuing at Emory.

Dr. Mayberg received a B.A. in psychobiology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.D. degree from the University of Southern California School of Medicine.


Basic Research

In 2000, Kenneth Kendler, M.D., received a Distinguished Investigator Grant to pioneer studies on identifying gene-environment interactions linked to the development of mental illness. He conducted a pilot study aimed at clarifying the role of environmental risk factors in major depression. The results of this research demonstrated for the first time that environmental risk factors impact genetic expression to cause major depression.

Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D. - Brain & Behavior Research Expert on Schizophrenia and Depression and Epigenetics
Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D.

Banks Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry

Professor of Human Genetics

Medical College of Virginia / Virginia Commonwealth University

Scientific Council Member (Joined 1996)

2010, 2000 Distinguished Investigator Grant

1995 Lieber Prizewinner for Outstanding Achievement in Schizophrenia Research

Dr. Kendler’s research focuses on studies of psychiatric genetics in brain and behavior disorders such as schizophrenia, major depression, alcoholism, personality disorders and nicotine dependence. He utilizes methods ranging from family studies to large-sample population-based twin studies to molecular genetic studies aimed at identifying specific genes that influence the vulnerability to developing these illnesses. Data collection for these studies has been completed in Virginia, Ireland, China, Norway and Sweden.

Dr. Kendler has been involved in DSM-III-R, DSM-IV and most recently, DSM-5 where he chaired the Scientific Review Committee. Since 1996, he has served as Director of the Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. Before joining Virginia Commonwealth University, Dr. Kendler worked at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

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The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is a global nonprofit organization focused on improving the understanding, prevention and treatment of psychiatric and mental illnesses.

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Beginning in 1987, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation was providing seed money to neuroscientists to invest in “out of the box” research that the government and other sources were unwilling to fund. Today, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is still the leading, private philanthropy in the world in this space.

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