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Annual Awards Recognize Foundation’s Young Investigators for Research to Unlock Mysteries of Mental Illness
NEW YORK CITY (August 1, 2016)—The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation today announced the winners of its annual Klerman & Freedman Prizes, recognizing exceptional clinical and basic research by scientists who have been supported by NARSAD Young Investigator Grants. The grants enable early career scientists to pursue innovative ideas in neurobiological and psychosocial research, garner pilot data and generate “proof” of concept for the early detection, treatment, prevention and cure of mental illnesses.
Six young scientists—winners of the Klerman & Freedman Prizes along with two honorable mentions in each category—were selected by the Foundation’s Scientific Council, comprised of 164 leading experts across disciplines in brain and behavior research including two Nobel Prize winners, four former directors of the National Institute of Mental Health, four recipients of the National Medal of Science, 13 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 23 Chairs of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments at leading colleges and universities around the world, and 52 members of the Institute of Medicine.
The awards are named for Gerald Klerman, M.D. and Daniel Freedman, M.D., neuropsychiatry pioneers who played seminal roles as researchers, teachers, physicians and administrators.
“The Klerman and Freedman Prizes recognize outstanding talent across the field of neuropsychiatry,” said Herbert Pardes, M.D. President of the Foundation’s Scientific Council, Executive Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Professor Psychiatry, Columbia & Weill Cornell. “This early career recognition often serves as a precursor to further accomplishments, awards and prizes. NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees receive an average of 11 to 19 times the original grant amount in subsequent funding.”
“These prizes bestowed annually recognize young researchers whose work in child and adolescent depression, anxiety, unipolar and bipolar depression and schizophrenia further advance the quest to identify the biological roots of mental illness, develop new diagnostic tools, more effective and targeted treatments, and pave the way toward prevention,” said Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., the Foundation’s President and CEO.
The 2016 Klerman Prize for Exceptional Clinical Research was awarded to Katie A. McLaughlin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Washington, whose work explored child maltreatment and neural networks underlying emotion regulation as a neurodevelopmental pathway to anxiety and depression.
For her grant project, Dr. McLaughlin examined how exposure to maltreatment in childhood influences the architecture of the developing brain in ways that increase risk for anxiety and depression. By looking at how environmental experience shapes emotional, cognitive and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence, she was able to uncover specific developmental processes that are disrupted by adverse environmental experiences early in life and determine how those disruptions increase the risk of mental health problems. Her goal in understanding these mechanisms is to inform the creation of interventions, practices and policies to promote adaptive development for society’s most vulnerable members.
“Receiving the NARSAD Young Investigator Award has been pivotal to my career, providing the funds for the first large study conducted in my lab, and has fueled numerous additional research projects,” she says. “In particular, this award was instrumental in helping me obtain a large federal grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.”
The 2016 Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research was awarded to Kay M. Tye, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT, for her grant project, “Identifying Unique Neural Circuits for Anxiety Control.”
Dr. Tye used optogenetics technology to manipulate neurons in specific pathways implicated in anxiety disorders. She then observed the effect on neural activity and corresponding behaviors. Her research focuses on understanding the neural circuits that are important in processing positive and negative emotions, and their effect on behavior. By using optogenetics, pharmacological, electrophysiological and imaging techniques to look at limbic circuits that underlie behaviors such as social interaction, feeding and associative learning, Dr. Tye hopes to crack the neural code of anxiety and gain insight into effective treatments of these disorders.
“The NARSAD Young Investigator Award was critical in helping me launch my career as an independent investigator and pursue research on the neural circuitry underlying behaviors relevant to mental illness,” she said. “This knowledge will hopefully facilitate the development of more efficacious treatments that have fewer side effects.”
The Foundation also awarded honorable mentions for both the Klerman & Freedman Prizes.
Klerman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Erin C. Dunn, Sc.D., MPH, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an Assistant in Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Avram J. Holmes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Psychiatry at Yale University.
Dr. Dunn was honored for her work looking at “Sensitive Periods Associated with the Development of Depression”—windows of time in the lifespan when the developing brain is particularly vulnerable to adversity, maltreatment, neglect or poverty. Dr. Holmes is being honored for his work in “Identifying the Network-Level Fingerprints of Affective Illness and Associated Polygenic Vulnerability in the General Population,” which looks for specific network-level signatures or “fingerprints” that indicate vulnerability for psychiatric illness.
Freedman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Kathleen Kyung Ah Cho, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Conor Liston, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry in the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute, the Sackler Institute for Development Psychobiology, and the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Kyung is being honored for her work investigating interneuron and circuit dysfunction in a mouse model of schizophrenia, studying parvalbumin interneurons, an inhibitory type of nerve cell in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, to determine their role in cognitive defects in individuals with schizophrenia. Dr. Liston is being honored for his investigation on how chronic stress during adolescence affects the development of neural circuits in the parts of the brain that are central to the regulation of attention and other cognitive processes.
About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. The Foundation funds the most innovative ideas in neuroscience and psychiatry to better understand the causes and develop new ways to treat brain and behavior disorders. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $346 million to fund more than 5,000 grants to more than 4,000 leading scientists around the world. This has led to over $3 billion in additional funding for these scientists. The Foundation is also dedicated to educating the public about mental health and the importance of research including the impact that new discoveries have on improving the lives of those with mental illness, which will ultimately enable people to live full, happy and productive lives. For more information, visit bbrfoundation.org.