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Seven Department of Psychiatry researchers receive Young Investigator Grants From Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

August 21, 2012

Seven Yale Department of Psychiatry investigators have received Young Investigator Grants from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD). The grants are among $11.9 million in new funding intended to strengthen the foundation's investment in the most promising ideas to lead to breakthroughs in understanding and treating mental illness.

Receiving up to $60,000 over two years, Young Investigators pursue brain and behavior research related to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety disorders like obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders.

NARSAD Grants support research across disciplines in four main categories:

  • Basic Research—to understand what happens in the brain to cause mental illness
  • New Technologies—to advance or create new ways of studying and understanding the brain
  • Diagnostic Tools / Early Intervention—to recognize early signs of mental illness and treat it as early as possible
  • Next Generation Therapies—to reduce symptoms and retrain the brain

"The NARSAD Young Investigator Grants have led to groundbreaking and important new research that has improved the lives of people living with mental illness through enhanced treatments and therapies and a better understanding of the causes of mental illness," said Benita Shobe, President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

NARSAD Young Investigator Grants have proven to be catalysts for additional funding once the Young Investigators have “proof of concept” for their hypotheses. On average, NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees receive an additional 11-19 times their original grant amount in subsequent funding and some have gone on to receive significantly more than that.

Yale Department of Psychiatry Recipients

Chadi Abdallah, MD
Dr. Abdallah will use a brain imaging method called magnetic resonance spectroscopy on a small group of patients with severe treatment resistant depression to examine the effect of ketamine. Ketamine is an anesthetic medication that provides rapid antidepressant effects on glutamate. This work may facilitate the development of medications similar to ketamine, but with reduced adverse side effects.

Alan Anticevic, PhD
To gain a multi-level mechanistic understanding of the cellular mechanisms involved in cognitive dysfunction of working memory in schizophrenia, Dr. Anticevic will combine brain scanning with a mathematical model of working memory, and will align its predictions with cognitive tests, an approach that may provide a more focused framework for developing treatments for cognitive dysfunction.

Irina Esterlis, PhD
Dr. Esterlis will give PET brain scans to Bipolar Disorder patients and healthy controls to determine differences in magnitude and distribution of metabotropic glutamate receptors 5 (mGluR5)—a site in the brain where glutamate binds—and how these differences relate to mood and cognitive symptoms.

R. Andrew Sewell, MD
In all types of animals tested so far, activating cannabinoid receptors enhances fear extinction, but this has never before been attempted in humans. Dr. Sewell aims to increase our understanding of the neurobiology of fear and anxiety by testing whether enhancing cannabinoid function can enhance extinction learning in healthy human subjects, providing a first step towards development of new treatments for PTSD.

Toral S. Surti, MD, PhD
Dr. Surti seeks to develop a cognitive training exercise for improving visual processing in schizophrenia. She chose a model visual processing task called visual backward masking, success at which demands better social and cognitive abilities and greater functioning. Dr. Surti will compare how healthy people and those with schizophrenia learn to improve on this task, and she will examine whether, at the end of the training, people with schizophrenia are better able to learn visual information and identify facial expressions.

Sarah I. Tarbox, PhD
In an effort to develop more effective means of identifying risk for psychosis early in life and develop interventions, Dr. Tarbox will study high-risk individuals and normal-risk siblings. Her goals are to determine whether social functioning deficits across development as well as the association between social functioning deficits and psychosis risk symptoms are more strongly influenced by within-family effects compared to unique environmental effects.

Fei Wang, PhD
Dr. Wang will compare the white matter integrity and functional connectivity of medication-naïve adolescents and young adults experiencing their first episode of Bipolar Disorder versus those experiencing their first episode of schizophrenia. This will provide unique opportunities for understanding the development of both illnesses, their neuropathophysiological differences and potentially the identification of markers that differentiate them. This information will be key in the development of early identification, treatment and prevention strategies.

Submitted by Shane Seger on August 21, 2012