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Carol A. Tamminga, M.D.
Prizewinner, Lieber Prize for Schizophrenia Research
NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee
Professor and Chairman, University of Texas at Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
As the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation celebrates 25 Years of Discovery to Recovery, it seems fitting to share a video of a presentation given by Carol A. Tamminga, M.D., the most recent winner of the Lieber Prize for Schizophrenia Research. The Lieber Prize has been given annually since the inception of the Foundation in 1987, for recognition of a research scientist who has made distinguished contributions to the understanding of schizophrenia.
In Dr. Tamminga’s fascinating presentation, she discusses her latest NARSAD Grant-funded schizophrenia research on psychosis pertaining to learning and memory. She also discusses the history of the Prize, her long and illustrious career and relationship with the Foundation, and various historical depictions of psychosis from the 1700s to the present.
This presentation was given in October 2011 at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation 23rd Annual New York City Mental Health Research Symposium:
by Toby Serrouya
Paralegal, Mother, Donor – Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
Alan began to exhibit signs of obsessive behavior in junior high school. In high school, though he was in all honors classes in a very advanced private school, had trouble completing his assignments on time and being ready to go anywhere on time. The car pool was always waiting for him!
But it was when he was a sophomore at Yeshiva University that things took a dark turn. Alan began to sleep all day, not go to classes, and he even stopped eating. We received calls from his friends in the dorm telling us that something was very wrong with him. We took him out of school for a long Thanksgiving recess break and had an evaluation done by the Chief of Psychiatry at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston, NJ. It was there Alan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The doctor advised us to take Alan out of school with a leave of absence, and have him begin therapy immediately. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were no medications that existed that could help him in the long-term. There is still much work to be done in terms of research breakthroughs and medications. It was only after Alan’s death that I learned how low a priority fund-raising is for mental illness – it is the “step child” of all fund-raising endeavors, even at the Congressional level.
So I decided to organize my own annual fundraiser, A Walk for a Cure, back in May 2001, and looked around for an organization to donate funds to. A good friend of mine, Janet Reckenbeil, gave me a NY Times clipping of a wonderful article that talked about the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (then called NARSAD), and the rest is history.
The psychiatrist wanted to put Alan on medication ─ Alan fought it for a long while, but finally agreed. We quickly learned that until the right combination was found, each medication could exacerbate the symptoms it was meant to alleviate. We finally found an effective combination with lithium as the catalyst.
Lithium enabled Alan to return to college, read and focus again, and ultimately graduate, going on to get a great job. Unfortunately, this medication began to attack his kidneys and he had to be taken off of it. His doctor was never able to find an adequate substitute.
Because people often mask the signs of mental illness, some of my friends thought Alan was faking it and that I was spoiling him, and even refused to accept his diagnosis. It wasn’t until Alan died that those around him accepted the truth.
One devastating night in 2000, the police department called and gave us the news every parent dreads: that our son had been in a terrible accident, and to come to the police department as soon as possible. On the ride to the police department, I kept asking why we weren’t going to the hospital, but I soon learned why. My beautiful private school-educated son had jumped to his death from the roof of his apartment building. He was just 27 and a half years old.
Once I returned to work after a period of mourning, my colleagues greeted me and told me that they were going to help me heal ─ and they did! Part of my healing process after Alan died was to take their suggestion to write a book. The solitary, healing exercise brought back happy memories of raising Alan, which had been eclipsed by all the years of his illness. I wrote the dedication “in loving memory to my son Alan who always wanted to do the right thing and have all of those whom he knew and loved do the right thing as well.”
People still view mental illness as something that only the homeless or criminals have. The only way to change this is to share stories of people like my son, and to let others know that mental illness can strike anyone – your mother, your sister, your best friend, your son. That’s why I want to keep fighting and tell others to keep fighting mental illness, and keep raising money for the wonderful research that is funded by NARSAD Grants.
by Carrie Bearden, Ph.D.,
who recently spoke at “THE TEENAGE MIND: WHAT EVERY PARENT NEEDS TO KNOW”,
Presented by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation in partnership with Sage Hill School
2003/2005 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee
Associate Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology,
Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior,
University of Califonia, Los Angeles
I was very pleased to read Dr. Adrian Preda’s recent blog posting focused on ‘exercising the brain’. I have become increasingly excited about the potential for aerobic exercise to boost neuroplasticity (i.e., the ability of the nervous system to respond to stimuli by reorganizing its structure, function and connections), and thus improve our capacity to learn. One study that I find particularly exciting is this one by Aberg and colleagues: a Swedish population cohort study of over 1 million men, in which not only was cardiovascular fitness positively associated with intelligence at age 18, but cardiovascular fitness changes between age 15 and 18 years predicted cognitive performance at age 18. This suggests that making these lifestyle changes can have positive and beneficial lasting effects for cognitive functioning. I have been diving into this literature full-force as I am preparing a new intervention grant for our clinical research program for adolescents suffering from schizophrenia. I am hopeful this intervention may have the potential to really improve the lives of these teens.
The more we study it, the more it becomes clear that the adult brain is incredibly plastic. While neurogenesis is a special form of neuroplasticity, there are other mechanisms of synaptic plasticity that are less well studied, In particular, I am interested in myelination – the white matter fiber tracts in the brain – as a mechanism for synaptic plasticity (this is a great review by Fields, if you are interested!). Recently, several studies have shown large-scale changes in structural and functional connectivity in the brain in a period of just a few weeks as a function of learning a new skill, like juggling or learning to play golf. These findings of learning-related functional brain plasticity, occurring throughout the lifespan, are incredibly exciting.
There are also periods of development- sensitive periods – like the teenage years, in which the brain is particularly dynamic. I spoke about this last Thursday night at the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Sage Hill Event: The Teenage Mind: What Every Parent Needs to Know . Adolescence is also a period of significant vulnerability for the development of mood disorder, substance abuse, and other psychopathology. How can we harness this increased neuroplasticity to achieve lasting clinical change? What are some lifestyle interventions that might actually make a difference? These are all key issues which I think we are making important strides toward addressing, but clearly there is a lot more work to be done. At the very least, the rising tide of evidence for brain plasticity offers promise for the possibility of changing and rewiring the brain.
by Benita Shobe
President & CEO, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
2011 was an impressive year of progress as NARSAD Grant-funded discoveries spanned brain and behavior disorders – including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders including OCD and PTSD and autism. Our Scientific Council selects the most promising ideas to fund each year, across research disciplines, institutions and communities. In the sampling of work presented below, you will discover proven next generation therapies, innovative early intervention techniques and promise for improved diagnostic tools, groundbreaking basic research to further our understanding of how the brain functions and can malfunction, and the continued refinement of new technologies to significantly advance our progress.
Please click on our orange neuron logo below and
explore our interactive 2011 Research Highlights page. As always, thank you for joining in our shared commitment to alleviate the suffering caused by mental illness. We will continue to share our progress with you – check for news updates weekly on our web site front page – throughout this New Year that is already proving very productive!
By Rob Laitman
Runner, Father, Donor – Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
Five years ago my son Daniel was diagnosed with schizophrenia and our lives were turned upside down. He was just starting his sophomore year of high school when he was diagnosed and was in and out of hospital day programs for much of that year. Over the next 2 years we would see many doctors and Daniel would be on many different medications. While he is now on a medical regimen that he is doing well on, and while he finished high school on time in a great program and is now in community college, we all long for the day when his disease will be cured, not just kept under control. He still has symptoms most days and has learned to live with them, but we would love for him to be free of “the voices”.
Last January, Daniel, Daniel’s sister Hannah, their cousin Joey, and myself ran the Disney World Half-Marathon together and raised almost $15,000 for the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. That was just the beginning! On January 7,2012, we did it again. We participated again in the Disney Half Marathon, and I ran the full marathon the next day. The weekend was great! Hannah, Daniel, Rachel and I finished the half marathon in about 2 hrs 37 minutes…..Rachel has not run for almost a year, but she finished! I completed the full marathon in 3 hours and 19 minutes, which is faster than I planned – I felt great!
We all know someone with a mental illness and we can all be part of the search to find better treatments and cures for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and eating disorders and the many other types of mental illness that are out there. I hope they never affect you, but chances are that one of them will touch you or someone you love. Help us to raise funds for research and you be part of the cure!
We aren’t finished! There are more marathons this year. Would you like to join us? Whether or not you are a runner, I would like to invite you to support Team Daniel and TeamUp! Please share this blog link with family and friends, make a donation, or even better, join us in a run! (See our schedule below.) I am really hoping to recruit more Team members. What an inspiration it would be to see a sea of Team Daniel / BBRF tee shirts running in the marathon!
I personally offer to support runners up to $1000 if they raise at least $5000 for the Foundation. I will do this up to 10 runners.
Team Daniel marathons in support of Brain & Behavior Research Foundation:
• Boston Marathon, April 2012
• New Jersey Marathon, May 2012
• New York Marathon, November 2012
We are in the lottery for…
• Chicago, Illinois
• St. George, Utah
Please enjoy this video “Grateful” – written and performed by my daughter Rachel Laitman: