Hearing from NARSAD Young Investigators (Part 3)

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.)

Two weeks ago 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:

Karuna Subramaniam, Ph.D.

I am delighted to receive the NARSAD grant! It is my first grant application, and this comes at a critical time in my research as I endeavor to launch my career conducting research on the behavioral and neural interactions between affective, social and cognitive processes in schizophrenia.

This research is an extension of the studies I conducted as a graduate student at Northwestern University on the cognitive enhancing effects of positive moods in healthy people. See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07brain.html.

My hope is that inducing a positive mood will have similar (and likely more potent) cognitive enhancing effects in schizophrenia, a disorder in which patients suffer from a range of social and emotional deficits. This research interfaces well with our ongoing social cognitive training studies in schizophrenia conducted in collaboration with the PositScience Corporation. I believe that this research will have significant clinical implications on the development of novel treatments in schizophrenia, and would, therefore, help in reducing symptoms, improving cognition and improving overall quality of life for patients with schizophrenia.

Karuna Subramaniam, Ph.D.
University of California San Francisco

I was very pleasantly surprised to have received a 2010 Young Investigator Award from NARSAD. Not only is it a great honor to receive this award at this stage of my career, but the support of NARSAD will allow me to obtain pilot data for my PET study of antipsychotic binding to the dopamine-3 receptor that I will be able to use in future, federal grant applications. Pilot data are critical for these grant applications to be seriously considered by funding organizations. Therefore, this award will put me in an ideal position to obtain federal funding and eventually establish myself as an independent investigator.

Thank You,
Ragy Girgis, M.D.
New York State Psychiatric Institute
Columbia University

I am deeply honored to be one of the recipients of the NARSAD Young Investigator Award. I consider this grant as a stepping stone in my professional development since securing funding for my new lab in Argentina is one of my priorities at this stage of my independent career. I would like to thank NARSAD and all the donors that contributed with their time and money for awarding me with this grant; be ensured that I view this award as a privilege as well as a big responsibility.
Juan Belforte, Ph.D.
School of Medicine
University of Buenos Aires, Argentina


 Lauren Weiss
Lauren Weiss, Ph.D.

I’m very excited about the NARSAD Young Investigator Grant because it will allow me to pursue a novel approach to identify complex networks of genes that we would not have guessed act similarly to cause psychiatric disease. I hope successful preliminary results on this project will open the door to using this method more broadly and launch a whole different facet of future research for my new laboratory.
Lauren Weiss, Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco


Jessica Noggle
Jessica Noggle, Ph.D.


I received notice of this award the day before leaving for an intensive yoga retreat, which allowed me some time to reflect how the award will shift my research focus. Currently I’ve had the opportunity to work with a really important population, normative adolescents, to evaluate yoga as a universal, preventive mental health program. However, when it comes to my long-term goals as an independent investigator, I’ve been eager to work with clinical populations of adults. Furthermore, I’m very interested in better understanding how yoga influences sleep. This award brings me closer to both long-term goals.

Thank you!
Jessica Noggle, Ph.D.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard University

It is my great pleasure to receive the NARSAD Young Investigator grant! I was really excited when I got the e-mail notifying me that I got it, because this Young Investigator grant will definitely help my current project and my career!

I am working on a schizophrenia susceptibility gene, called DISC1, to see whether the disruption of DISC1 function in newborn neurons in the adult brain of mice will cause any schizophrenia-related phenotypes. I have found that disruption of DISC1 function in adult-born neurons causes cognitive deficits and enhanced depression, which are symptoms of schizophrenia patients. I am also looking forward to finding out if rapamycin, a FDA approved drug, could rescue these deficits. Although schizophrenia is believed to be a neurodevelopmental disorder, which is thought to be caused by irreversible abnormalities during brain development, if rapamycin works, it will become a potential treatment for schizophrenia even if the treatment is initiated during  adulthood. So, I feel I am lucky to get the NARSAD Young Investigator grant because it will not only help me continue the DISC1 studies, it will also be an essential component of my training to become an independent investigator in the area of mental health research.
Miou Zhou, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

I thank NARSAD for accepting my grant application and am very appreciative of this funding. This award is crucial in the development of our research program on the epigenetic factors of vulnerability to depression and resistance to an antidepressant treatment with SSRIs that uses a mouse model developed by my group. Together with my local students and colleagues from Hannover University we look forward to working on the goals of our awarded project and hope to identify the exact mechanisms of palmitoylation of the 5-HT(1A) receptor that are important for the above mentioned phenomena.

Apart from that, NARSAD funding shall be of cardinal importance for my career in a field of pre-clinical studies on depression, as well as for students I am supervising at the moment. Personally, I am deeply impressed with NARSAD as a unique agency that helps researchers, even from overseas, to carry on with their independent line of research and establish their own niche in the neuroscience community. Looking back to some of my past experiences, I feel that NARSAD provides a type of support that sometimes is irreplaceable in a context of academia in Europe. I find it very remarkable that NARSAD provides such help irrespectively to geographic, cultural and other factors that in my view, reflects the most transparent and professional way of supporting science, as well as full commitment of this funding body to the progress in the neuropsychiatric research. My colleagues and I are committed to do our best to accomplish research plans supported by NARSAD, which hopefully shall result in an overall better understanding of biology of depression and define innovative approaches with antidepressant therapies.
Tatyana Strekalova, M.D., Ph.D.
School for Mental Health and Neuroscience
Maastricht University, Netherlands

Anne Schaefer, M.D., Ph.D.
Anne Schaefer, M.D., Ph.D.

I was thrilled to receive the NARSAD Young Investigator Award. In the past years my group has identified a key role of a particular form of histone lysine methylation in animal behavior. The award will help us to test a few key hypotheses that will tackle a possibility of epigenetic maintenance of aberrant behavior and mood disorders that are associated with infectious diseases. I am convinced that the recognition of our research by NARSAD will provide an extra stimulus to members of my small research group and will expedite our research.
Anne Schaefer, M.D., Ph.D.
The Rockefeller University

The NARSAD Young Investigator award is considered to be one of the most prestigious and competitive awards for junior scientists in psychiatry. It is indeed a wonderful honor to have been selected. The NARSAD Young Investigator grant is one of the hallmarks of achievement at this stage and it carries with it a message to others that the person is on a successful trajectory in academic medicine (I hope!). I say this in hopes of continuing the reputation of this award in my own study. It specifically compliments my recent NIMH career development grant to examine the best way to teach cognitive skills to people with schizophrenia. My Young Investigator project looks at what possible areas of the brain are responsible for motivating people with schizophrenia to learn – and learn efficiently.

The Young Investigator award allows me to examine these issues from a biological perspective, thereby providing neuroscientific evidence of what I will be studying clinically in the NIMH study. Importantly, the award allows me to test out innovative learning and motivation paradigms that would not have been possible through other grant mechanisms. The ultimate goal is further theories about which areas of the brain to target when developing therapies to enhance learning, motivation and cognition in schizophrenia.
Jimmy Choi, Psy.D.
Columbia University


Yan Jiang
Yan Jiang, M.D., Ph.D.


This NARSAD Young Investigator award is the best New Year’s gift I ever received. With the support from this grant, I will continue my research on the study of the neurobiology of major depression. I plan to look into the epigenetic regulations of newborn neurons in the adult brain, and my final goal is to find some small molecular functions that can increase adult neurogenesis and ameliorate symptoms in patients suffering from major depression. Thank you.
Yan Jiang, M.D., Ph.D.
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

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


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