Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 2)

by Barbara Wheeler, NARSAD manager of communications and media relations

In January 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.)

Last week we started a blog series that continues with this post and features feedback from some of the new Young Investigators who represent a new generation of researchers.

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

Alexa Veenema, Ph.D.
I am very excited about receiving the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant! I am just starting up my own lab at Boston College and the NARSAD grant is an essential stimulus for my research, which is aimed at understanding how neural systems control social behavior, especially during early development.


Best regards,
Alexa H. Veenema, Ph.D.
Boston College



Michelle Magid, M.D.

I was thrilled to receive a NARSAD award. I have been told by my mentors that a NARSAD award “is always worth much more than its dollar amount because of the prestige and the connections it can afford.” The first week after receiving this award, I was asked to give Grand Rounds at UT Southwestern in Dallas and to co-author a Psychodermatology review article for the leading Dermatology journal. In addition, I have now become the top contender for two other grants that I have recently applied for. THANK YOU NARSAD!


My research is in the field of Psychodermatology and the mind/body connection. We are specifically looking at using Botulinum Type A Toxin (Botox) in the treatment of depression. Since depression affects 16 percent of the adult population, it is important that we continue to seek new treatment options and explore novel concepts.
With the help of NARSAD funding, we hope to prove the facial feedback hypothesis – that facial movement and expression can highly influence emotional experience. Treatment with Botulinum Type A (Botox) can rid patients of their negative facial expressions, thereby immediately halting both the biological and psychological effects that lead to depression. We theorize that after successful Botox treatment, patients who naturally appear negative and who suffer from depression will no longer be depressed.
Thank you!
Michelle Magid, M.D.
UT Southwestern in Austin/Seton Family of Hospitals
Silvia Corbera, Ph.D.

When I was notified that I received the NARSAD Young Investigator award, I felt flattered and honored. This award is extremely important for me since it will help me establish a foundation for my career research program, which is the study of empathy in people with schizophrenia. Empathy is a fascinating but intricate construct that is intertwined with many social cognitive constructs, and which is vital for a successful social and functional life. This award will allow me to study the neurodynamics of the empathic response in people with schizophrenia using event-related potentials. The knowledge I will obtain with this project will be invaluable because it will allow me to identify specific treatments to improve empathy and social skills in people with schizophrenia, which will enable them to live a more fruitful and enjoyable life.


Silvia Corbera, Ph.D.
Yale School of Medicine
Shih Chieh Lin, M.D., Ph.D.

My studies show how cognitive functions, such as attention and executive control, are mediated by interactions of cortical and subcortical circuits. The NARSAD Young Investigator award will allow me to link this research to schizophrenia and ADHD where attention impairment is a key feature, with the long-term goal of understanding how basal forebrain neural mechanisms are altered in neuropsychiatric disorders that affect top-down attention.


Best regards,
Shih-Chieh Lin, M.D., Ph.D.
National Institute on Aging / NIH

Rhiannon Luyster, Ph.D.

I am extremely grateful for the Young Investigator Award, which will support my entry into a new area of autism research. My training to this point has focused on the use of behavioral measures to understand development in autism, and the NARSAD funding will allow me to expand my expertise to include new methods of study, including even- related potentials (ERP) and infrared eye tracking. I believe that by combining these complementary approaches of investigation I will be better poised to explore how behavioral and neural development are related in this complex disorder.


Rhiannon Luyster, Ph.D.
Children’s Hospital, Boston
Harvard University
Matthew Kennedy, Ph.D.

I was thrilled to hear the news that I had been awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Award. I would like to thank NARSAD for recognizing my research on synaptic function with this award, which will be indispensable in developing my research program as I make the transition from post-doctoral fellow to independent investigator in the upcoming year. Organizations like NARSAD have and will continue to be critical for developing scientific careers, especially now that federal research funding has become increasingly difficult to obtain.

Best regards,
Matthew Kennedy, Ph.D.
Duke University Medical Center
Duke University
Damian Refojo, M.D., Ph.D.

Stress has been recognized as a potent risk for developing depression and the central CRF/CRF receptor 1 (CRF1) system arguably offers one of the best mechanistic bases in depression. In fact in the recent years, CRF1 antagonists have been developed and assayed in depressed patients with encouraging results. But to support those pharmacological developments it is necessary to better understand the biological basis of the CRF/CRF1 system in the brain both under normal and pathological conditions. With the help of this NARSAD Young Investigator Award we aspire to gain insight into these mechanisms, which will hopefully help in the development of new treatments for depression, a mental disorder, which is anticipated to be the second leading cause of disability for the year 2030.

From the perspective of my career development: In January 2009 I was honored with a Junior Group position of the Max Planck Society, one of the most prestigious scientific organizations in Europe. The Junior Group Program is a career system

where young scientists are chosen (after a highly competitive selection processes) to develop independent research. This position obviously generates great pressure for publishing and obtaining further financing for research. In this sense, being the recipient of a grant by a prestigious and independent institution like NARSAD might certainly be decisive in the initial steps of my career as independent scientist.

Damian Refojo, M.D., Ph.D.
Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry/Max Planck Institutes
Christopher Lowry, Ph.D.

Our research group has extensive experience using rodent models to investigate the role of serotonergic systems in the regulation of emotional behavior. Data from these studies suggest that animal models of depression are associated with increases in the expression of the gene tph2, which encodes the rate-limiting enzyme in serotonin synthesis. This is consistent with recent findings that brain serotonin turnover is elevated in depressed patients.

This 2010 Young Investigator Award will allow us to begin to study serotonergic systems, including tph2 expression, in postmortem tissues from bipolar depressed patients, in hope of increasing our understanding of the biological basis of this disorder.
Best wishes,
Christopher Lowry, Ph.D.
University of Colorado Boulder
Yanchun Li, M.D., Ph.D.

I am so excited to receive a NARSAD Young Investigator award and it is the greatest news I had last year. This grant means so much to me. It will certainly help me build my career and realize my goal of helping people who are suffering from schizophrenia!

Thank you so much,
Yanchun Li, M.D., Ph.D.
Drexel University College of Medicine

Shahrdad Lotfipour, Ph.D.

Winning the 2010 NARSAD Young Investigator award is an incredible honor and privilege. I am truly grateful to the donors who believe in the mission of NARSAD, the agency and the selection committee. With the assistance of the NARSAD Young Investigator award, our research aims to use innovative genetic and molecular tools to identify the sub-unit composition of nicotinic receptors in the brain that are responsible for mediating the mechanisms of tobacco addiction. We hope our findings will guide the development of novel therapeutic interventions to assist with smoking cessation and possibly identify how selective candidate genes mediate individual susceptibility to tobacco abuse. Such research is of critical importance as an estimated 46 million people in the United States and 1.3 billion people in the world continue to smoke.

Shahrdad Lotfipour, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

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

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