Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 1)

by Barbara Wheeler, NARSAD manager of communications and media relations 

Earlier this month 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.)

Young Investigators represent a new generation of researchers. Young Investigator grants are catalysts for additional funding, providing researchers with “proof of concept” for their work. On average, NARSAD Young Investigators have used their grants to leverage an additional 19 times their original grant amount and some have gone on to receive much more than that after proving initial hypotheses with the first NARSAD grant support.

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


Qi Zhang, Ph.D.

I received the e-mail on December 30 last year after a day of exhausting experiments. It certainly ended my 2010 with a high-pitch. 

As pointed out by my mentor, Dr. Ariel Deutch, the NARSAD Young Investigator grant is not a big grant, but it has been the stepping stone for numerous successful scholars. Looking over the list of previous awardees is like cruising through the Neuroscience Walk of Fame. 

This award is particular important for me as I am just starting my own lab. My post-doc work is on the basic aspect of synaptic transmission, and I am trying to establish my own niche by migrating to the field of synaptic pathology. Furthermore, my work is fairly novel (combining nanotechnology and cell biology) and therefore has been deemed to be “risky” by a lot of funding agencies. It is thus very encouraging to learn that private foundations like NARSAD are indeed very much supportive of this type of research and regard us as “a new generation of researchers who will pioneer breakthroughs in mental health research.”

For more of my research, please check out my lab website www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/labs/nano-neurosci/Welcome.html.

Many thanks, NARSAD!
Qi Zhang, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

I am extremely grateful to be selected as one of this year’s Young Investigator awardees.  This is a timely award for launching my research in a new direction.  It will greatly facilitate new studies designed to pharmacologically manipulate brain processes underlying anxiety states.  I anticipate that this work will have significant implications for anxiety disorders such as PTSD.  

Thank you,
Brian Cornwell, Ph.D.
National Institute of Mental Health/
National Institutes of Health


David Hsu, Ph.D.

I want to thank NARSAD and its donors for helping me realize my research ideas.  I am very excited to receive a Young Investigator Award, which will allow me to conduct a study on how social feedback affects brain chemistry in major depressive disorder.  I anticipate this study to yield findings that will be of great interest to the general public, and will stimulate a number of new hypotheses for future funding.  I am very grateful and excited to be a part of this year’s group of awardees and the mission of NARSAD.

David Hsu, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

Felice Jacka, Ph.D.

This award from NARSAD means that I can now proceed to test the central hypothesis of my ongoing research program – that exposure to a diet of poor nutritional quality, in-utero and in the first few years of life, increases the risk for the common mental disorders, depression and anxiety, in children as they grow. My previous research, investigating the association between poor diet and increased depression and anxiety, has been conducted in both adults and adolescents. This NARSAD award now gives me the opportunity to go right back to the beginning and examine dietary exposures from day one of an individual’s life. This study will be conducted in the largest and best quality cohort study in the world, and will allow us to answer the critically important question: “Does the quality of my child’s diet affect their risk of mental illness?” Addressing this question would not have been possible without the support of NARSAD and I am extremely grateful for the award. I now look forward to conducting the study and reporting on our findings as soon as possible!

Felice Jacka, Ph.D.
University of Melbourne



Ming Meng, Ph.D.

I was thrilled to hear this news. My post-doc associate, Dan Graham, and I collaborated with NARSAD Artworks to study perception deficits in schizophrenia. The NARSAD Young Investigator Award will allow me to further combine cutting-edge neuroimaging methods and psychophysical experimentation to study neural mechanisms underlying emotion perception, which may lead clues to understand face perception deficits in Autism. I greatly appreciate the support from NARSAD and its generous donors.

Thank you,
Ming Meng, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College www.dartmouth.edu/~menglab/


This award comes at an extremely timely moment in my project’s development as well as in my career.  I am currently pursuing an Advanced Certificate in Clinical Investigation at Weill Cornell Medical College as well as actively involved in several research projects.  This award will enable me to significantly advance my study of the impact of in-utero SSRI exposure on neonatal pulmonary vasculature and respiratory function, which I hope will significantly benefit infants, pregnant women and their families, as well as practitioners.  Depression in pregnancy is understudied and undertreated, sometimes with tragic results.  Not enough is known about the safety of the antidepressant medications used in pregnancy.  I am tremendously grateful to NARSAD  for helping me advance our fund of knowledge in this important area.
Mallay Occhiogrosso, M.D.
Weill Cornell Medical College


Thomas J. Whitford, Ph.D.

I am delighted to receive a NARSAD Young Investigator Award, as it will allow me to continue my search into the fundamental physiological causes of schizophrenia. I firmly believe that an understanding of the underlying causes of schizophrenia is necessary if we are to develop more effective treatments for this severe mental illness. I am interested in the idea that many characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia are caused by a failure to suppress the sensory and cognitive consequences of self-generated actions. With the funding provided by the NARSAD Young Investigator Award, I will use electroencephalographic and neuroimaging techniques to explore whether these “self-suppression” abnormalities could potentially represent a pre-morbid biomarker for the development of schizophrenia in high-risk individuals.
Thomas J. Whitford,
University of Melbourne


Jessica Buxton, Ph.D.

Several of the antipsychotic drugs currently used to treat schizophrenia can cause weight gain, which in turn increases the risk of other health conditions, especially type 2 diabetes. These side-effects frequently lead patients to stop taking medication, resulting in relapse and repeated stays in hospital. My NARSAD Young Investigator award will fund research into a genetic variation that is known to be involved in both obesity and schizophrenia, to find out if it plays a role in people’s response to antipsychotic drugs. I have a strong personal commitment to improving the lives of people living with schizophrenia, and am very grateful to NARSAD and its supporters for allowing me to extend my research activities into this area. This project will pave the way for new tests that will allow doctors to better predict how people will respond to antipsychotic drugs, to lessen the risk of serious side effects and provide more effective treatments.

Best wishes,
Jessica Buxton, Ph.D.
Imperial College London


Francesca Ducci, M.D., Ph.D.

I am really enthusiastic about receiving the NARSAD Young Investigator grant and I hope this will be my first step toward becoming an independent researcher. I’m studying the genetics behind psychosis, which to date has focused on common genetic polymorphisms. I hope to identify new rare polymorphisms and test the extent of impact they have on risk for psychosis. This study will help improve our understanding of the biological process causing psychosis, which is a first step toward the identification of new treatment targets and the development of more personalized preventive and treatment strategies.

Francesca Ducci, M.D., Ph.D.
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College, London



Tracy Young-Pearse, Ph.D.

This award comes at a critical time for our fledgling lab, which began in May 2010. We are thrilled that our research efforts towards understanding the causes of schizophrenia will be accelerated because of this award. Additionally, we are especially pleased to become a part of the NARSAD community.

Tracy Young-Pearse, Ph.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard Medical School    


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


1 thought on “Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 1)

  1. Hi,

    I am a health care worker and a sufferer. Can we all please unite, MHA, DBSA, NARSAD, NAMI, Staglin Vineyards, Representative Kennedy, health care workers, researchers, patients, family members and friends and increase awareness of the silver ribbon for mental health?

    This is such a simple concept that is right in front of us and some are already doing and have been supporting for over 10 years. Then we could lobby to get the passage of a US silver ribbon stamp for mental health.

    Canada has passed 4 mental health stamps since 2007 and has raised 1.5 million dollars for community programs.

    This can be done. I am going to contact every medical school, teaching hospital, research facililty, psych. hospital ect. in my state to start purchasing silver ribbon pins and mailing letters to legislators and the post office committee until this is accomplished.

    Please contact me at ewwhippies30@gmail.com. If organizations start to pick this up all the better.

    I will contact media – whatever it takes. I am not a researcher or a doctor, but we are all human beings and constituents who can tell the legislators how we feel.

    I am angry that mental health is chronically underfunded in this country and I will not be ignored. Please join me.


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