Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees (Part 4)

Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees (Part 4)

Posted: February 22, 2011

In January NARSAD announced grant awards to 214 new Young Investigators. Totaling $12.6 million, these grants are part of the continued investment NARSAD makes in brilliant researchers with the most promising ideas to lead to breakthroughs in understanding and treating mental illness. (Click here to read the Young Investigator press release.)

Last month we started a blog series that continues with this post and features feedback from some of the new NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees who represent a new generation of researchers.

Here’s what some of the Young Investigators had to say about their NARSAD grants:

I was elated to receive notification that I was one of the new NARSAD Young Investigator awardees. This support will provide resources necessary to help move my research forward during a tough economic time. Receipt of this grant will enable me to transition to an independent investigator so that I may continue my research pursuits investigating genotype and pharmacotherapeutic interaction in schizophrenia.
Kristin Andrud, Ph.D.
University of Colorado Denver

It has been exciting to be awarded this prestigious grant. I can’t wait to get started!

The funding provided through NARSAD will allow me to pursue some questions that have weighed heavily on my mind about how experience early in life shapes the capacity for mood and emotion regulation. There are some really exciting ideas brewing in the field about sensitive periods and how we can harness the flexibility of the brain during childhood to improve the lives of children and adults suffering with the burden of mental illness. I am hopeful that my proposed experiments will provide some of the details necessary to make more progress in this area.

This grant means a lot to me professionally and personally. Financially, it permits me to perform some experiments I could not otherwise fund and will lay the ground work for a larger sustaining grant application to launch an independent research career. On a personal level, receiving this grant encourages me to pursue my passion.
Elizabeth Hammock, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University

It is a privilege to be awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator award. This type of award to young promising investigators is key for the advancement of science that will enable timely translation to clinical intervention, early diagnosis and prevention. Mental illness has touched our families or friends in many ways, and I am honored to contribute to understanding the biological mechanisms of mental illness, and finding better treatments to improve the quality of life of the individuals affected by mental illness.

This award will enable me to use innovative brain imaging and neurocognitive methodologies to examine the neurobiological mechanisms underlying impulsivity in adolescents with pediatric bipolar disorder, a pediatric illness with severe mood dysregulation, where impulsivity and poor behavior regulation often lead to risky behavior, substance abuse and suicidal attempts. My commitment is to use this new scientific knowledge to inform better cognitive and psychosocial intervention that is focused on developing better impulse control and executive functions in this illness.
Alessandra M Passarotti, Ph.D.
University of Illinois at Chicago

First and foremost, I wish to thank the Scientific Council for choosing my proposal for funding and the generous donors who contribute to NARSAD. It is especially appealing that my proposal was accepted given the goal-centered philosophy of NARSAD to advance current therapies for schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, and other mental illnesses. I was thrilled to receive the award and will strive to live up to the standards set by NARSAD – for the duration of the funding from NARSAD and beyond.
Ryan Butler, Ph.D.
University of South Carolina School of Medicine

Receiving a NARSAD Young Investigator award is an honor and an extraordinary privilege. The grant will allow me to apply novel and innovative techniques to aid in our understanding of the underlying neurophysiological processes and their associations to the cognitive and functional deficits exhibited in schizophrenia. Due to the widespread communication and prestige of NARSAD, the results of my experiments will have greater impact for the treatment of schizophrenia and may lead to larger government-funded research grants, which will in turn increase the impact for those suffering from mental illness.
Anthony J. Rissling, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego

I was thrilled to receive the news that I was selected to receive a NARSAD Young Investigator award. What an incredible privilege to be given the opportunity and funding to contribute to psychiatric research through NARSAD! I am interested in increasing understanding of the neural bases of symptom dimensions (e.g., auditory hallucinations) across psychotic disorders diagnoses, and am grateful to have the support of NARSAD in this endeavor. As a junior investigator still in the early stages of my career, I am optimistic that the research I conduct with the help of NARSAD will not only yield data to shed more light on the pathophysiology underlying psychotic disorders, but that it will also serve as an important stepping stone in my overall career development. NARSAD funding will enable me to pursue my research interests during these challenging economic times. I am also hopeful that the data resulting from my NARSAD-supported research will provide me with important scientific clues that open up opportunities for many more years of fruitful investigation. I am indebted to the individuals who donate to NARSAD for their generosity in making this type of opportunity available to young investigators like myself. Thank you!
Ann Shinn, M.D., M.P.H.
McLean Hospital
Harvard University

I am delighted and excited to hear about receiving the NARSAD Young Investigator award. This will greatly advance my career and will allow me to study how ketamine exerts its effects, an issue that has interested me for a long time. I hope that this investment in my research will allow me to become an investigator who regularly tackles such issues while developing and testing new therapies and mechanisms. More importantly, I hope that this work will lead to increased understanding of depression, and will provide new treatments, as well as new avenues for treatment development. Ultimately, I hope that therapies stemming from this research will relieve suffering rapidly, particularly in patients who do not respond to other available treatments.
Kyle Lapidus, M.D., Ph.D.
Mount Sinai School of Medicine



Jennifer Wagner, Ph.D.

Jennifer Wagner, Ph.D.

I was thrilled to receive news of this award. My research will apply a new brain imaging tool, near-infrared spectroscopy, to the study of infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). By prospectively studying at-risk infants, our research program has the unique opportunity to look for neural signatures in the first year of life that could be used as early markers of atypical development. The NARSAD Young Investigator award has come at the perfect time in my career, and I am very excited to be a part of this important work in Dr. Charles Nelson’s lab at Children’s Hospital Boston that could ultimately lead to earlier identification of ASD.
Jennifer Wagner, Ph.D.
Children’s Hospital, Boston
Harvard University

Thank you so much! I am extremely grateful for the incredible generosity of donors for this opportunity to develop and apply cutting-edge methods to conduct a pilot project aimed at furthering our understanding of autism. The incidence of autism has virtually skyrocketed in recent years, and many families are looking to the research community for hope to improve the diagnosis and treatment of this disease that has historically been shrouded in mystery and controversy.

If one thinks of the brain as a complex network, where each part of the brain communicates with other parts of the brain through the connecting white matter tracts, then one hypothesis about what is going on in the brains of children with autism is that there is a general communication failure due to the mis-wiring of the brain, such that brain areas that are close together are wired together too tightly while brain areas that are farther apart have too little wiring. The end result of this altered circuitry is an impaired ability to make higher order cognitive decisions based on the lower level sensory input. For the first time, we are able to investigate this hypothesis directly in children with autism by using sophisticated neuroimaging technology called diffusion imaging and applying concepts from graph theory to quantify and compare the efficiency of both local and global brain networks. With this seed money, I plan to test this hypothesis by collecting high resolution, structural neuroimaging data on 25 autistic children and 25 healthy controls and comparing their local and global network efficiencies. Grants such as the NARSAD Young Investigator Award are integral for the development of new careers, such as my own, because they offer the opportunity to acquire pilot data that can be used to secure future funding.
Kristi Clark, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

This NARSAD award has provided an ideal opportunity for me to extend my research training by investigating genetic susceptibility to bipolar disorder and comorbid neurological conditions, specifically migraine. This novel study has the potential to increase our understanding of the biological processes underlying both bipolar disorder and migraine and will have important implications for the future diagnosis and treatment of both disorders. The UK Medical Research Council Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics at Cardiff University is an ideal location for this project as it is one of the world’s leading centers for the study of psychiatric genetics.
Dr Liz Forty, Ph.D.
Cardiff University

by Barbara Wheeler, NARSAD manager of communications and media relations

Check back next week for more feedback from new NARSAD Young Investigators.