Two research projects by Yale School of Medicine investigators—one on health care disparities, and the other on depression—have been given a boost with five-year, $600,000 awards from the West Hartford, Conn.-based Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation for Health-Related Research.

The Investigator Awards to Jennifer Prah Ruger, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Health Policy and Administration at Yale School of Public Health, and Alexander Neumeister, M.D., director of the Molecular Imaging Program in the Clinical Neuroscience Division of the Department of Psychiatry, are intended to support particularly promising and highly talented medical researchers holding academic appointments at Connecticut institutions.

Ruger is studying how to reduce disparities in health care, specifically among women, adolescents, minorities and other groups. Her goal is to translate her findings into programs that make more efficient use of scarce resources while improving clinical and public-health practice.

Ruger has found that global health inequalities are substantial and growing, and that these disparities are influenced by economic, social and health-sector variables as well as by geography. She recently co-authored a study showing that those individuals in most need of medical care in Korea, but who can least afford it, spend a far greater percentage of their income on health services than do wealthier citizens.

“The Donaghue Investigator Award,” Ruger says, “will be invaluable in furthering my research on the ethics and economics of health and health care disparities in the United States and across the globe.”

Neumeister is studying the neurobiology of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He is particularly interested in the relationship between trauma and stress and the risk of developing depression. Neumeister will conduct brain imaging studies using positron emission tomography (PET) in collaboration with researchers from the Yale PET Center to identify novel targets for drug development. This is of particular relevance since previous research has shown that currently available treatments for people with depression and a lifetime history of severe trauma have only modest benefits.

“This funding will allow us to study a very severely ill patient population which has not yet received sufficient attention and is very difficult to treat,” Neumeister says. “This award will yield important novel results that are expected to benefit people with depression and trauma.”