Leading young scientists awarded NARSAD research grants

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sept. 23, 2013

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Holly Korschun
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hkorsch@emory.edu

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Emory University has been a major beneficiary of Brain & Behavior Research Foundation support, receiving approximately $5.7 million in NARSAD Grants to 66 grantees since the organization’s inception in 1987.

Marking the 27th year of its transformative research grants for young scientists, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (formerly known as NARSAD or the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression) announced six new two-year grants to Emory University researchers for approximately $350,000. The awards were among 200 grant awards nationally totaling $11.8 million.  

The Foundation has awarded 3,497 two-year research grants to young investigators since the inception of its "NARSAD" Grants program in 1987. This $204.4 million investment in early career scientists’ bold, outside-the-box research ideas has reached across the world to 33 countries in an unprecedented effort by a privately funded philanthropy.  

"The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is unrivaled in its innovative and expert approach to funding the most promising ideas in brain and behavior research," says Nobel Prizewinner and Foundation Scientific Council member, Eric Kandel. "Its funding decisions are steered by the best scientists in the field and the research sponsored has consistently led to important advances. The Foundation has made an enormous impact in our collective attempt to discover the biological basis of psychiatric disorders."  

Emory University has been a major beneficiary of Brain & Behavior Research Foundation research support, receiving approximately $5.7 million in NARSAD Grants to 66 grantees since the mental health research organization’s inception in 1987.  

"Emory University has established itself as a leader in advancing understanding of the pathogenesis and pathophysiology of psychiatric disorders as well as the development of novel therapeutics," says Jeffrey Borenstein, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation President and CEO. "We are proud to support their brilliant scientists pursuing cutting-edge research to improve the lives of those with mental illness."  

Borenstein notes that the NARSAD Young Investigator Grants enable early career scientists to garner pilot data for innovative ideas before they have "proof of concept" for their work.  

"After our initial funding, they usually go on to receive sustained grant support from other sources that has proven to equal as much as 50 times the original NARSAD Grant amount. Our grants offer the first critical backing of their work," he says.

The Foundation also awards NARSAD Independent Investigator Grants for established researchers and NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants for particularly novel ideas from seasoned researchers.  

The Young Investigator program is highly selective, and this year a record-breaking number of 1,199 applications were received. Applications are reviewed by members of the Foundation’s Scientific Council, comprised of 138 brain and behavior research experts who volunteer their time to select the most promising research to lead to breakthroughs in understanding and treating mental illness.  

The 2013 Emory University grant recipients are:  

  • Christina Gross, PhD (cell biology), will examine an enzyme of the PI3K/mTOR pathway, a molecular complex that is often defective in both autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia and that might serve as a therapeutic target.  
  • Jianxiong Jiang, PhD (pharmacology), will explore the role played by inflammation in epilepsy-related depression, testing a hypothesis on the role of prostaglandin receptor signaling which may help guide new medication development.  
  • Alaine C. Keebaugh, PhD (Yerkes National Primate Research Center), will investigate the protective effect of oxytocin signaling and early-life immune activation to test the hypothesis that the oxytocin receptor gene is implicated in the development of impaired social cognition such as that seen in autism spectrum disorder.  
  • Adriana Lori, PhD (human genetics), seeks to determine whether variations in the ADRA1A gene influence response to antidepressant treatment and if they play a role in remission from depression.  
  • Jennifer S. Mascaro, PhD (anthropology), will test the effectiveness of an intervention called cognitively-based compassion training to increase empathy and social connectedness in 30 male military veterans diagnosed with PTSD.  
  • Hanan D. Trotman, PhD (psychology), will be conducting a first-time study of longitudinal changes in gonadal hormones and subsequent effects on symptom progression and risk for psychosis in high-risk individuals.  

Since 1987, the Foundation has invested over $300 million in research to identify causes, improve treatments and develop prevention strategies for a broad range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, autism, and bipolar, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, attention-deficit hyperactivity and obsessive-compulsive disorders.  

All overhead costs for the NARSAD Grants programs and operational expenses of the Foundation are underwritten by two family foundations, and 100 percent of all donor contributions for research are invested in NARSAD Grants.