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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 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!
In 2011, the Foundation awarded $1.5 million in NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grants to fund 15 brilliant scientists.
The NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant is the largest grant awarded by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, and provides up to $100,000 for a one-year study per scientist. Distinguished Investigator Grantees (we like to call them “D.I.’s” for short!) already have a proven record of extraordinary research accomplishments and receive the grant to pursue a novel or innovative research idea.
Meet some of the brilliant 2011 NARSAD Grantees:
Kelsey C. Martin, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles: “I am fortunate to have received research support from NARSAD Grants throughout my career, as a Young and Independent Investigator, and now a Distinguished Investigator. At each step, NARSAD Grant-funding has allowed me to explore new directions and ideas in my research. My lab uses basic molecular and cell biological approaches to understand how experience changes the circuitry of the brain and NARSAD Grants have allowed us to more directly consider our studies in the context of human mental illness. While I am convinced that cures to neuropsychiatric disease are most likely to come from a mechanistic understanding of nervous system function, the gap between basic neuroscience and psychiatry can be daunting. Through its support research aimed at understanding mental illness from a breadth of perspectives, The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, with its NARSAD Grants, narrows that gap.”
Ralph E. Hoffman, M.D., Yale University School of Medicine, Yale University: “In spite of advances in drug therapies and other approaches over the past 20 years, I continue to see the terrible devastation of [schizophrenia] time and time again ─ where talented, intelligent young people become hugely challenged with the burden of bizarre and disruptive experiences, with lost capacity in terms of school, work and social function. Although there have been incremental advances in understanding various aspects of this illness, there has been no breakout finding that has lead to a more definitive treatment. I would like to try to do something about that. Second, I believe that figuring out the basis of schizophrenia will also provide deep insights into how the brain works normally ─ how large populations of unintelligent neurons on their own connect and interact to generate ideas, language, emotions and social knowledge that make us human.”
“This NARSAD Grant has enabled me to launch a new research direction examining brain mechanisms causing schizophrenia. Our approach is based on a combined artificial neural network simulation / human narrative memory study by our group suggesting a new illness model of schizophrenia. The model predicts that aberrant neuroplasticity during consolidation of autobiographical memories intermingles and corrupts these memories thereby producing delusions and derailed narratives (Hoffman et al. Biological Psychiatry 2011). The NARSAD Grant will enable us for the first time to test this hypothesis directly in brain using functional MRI. This is a very exciting prospect because the hypothesis provides a detailed roadmap of how schizophrenia might develop during late adolescence and early adulthood, and, if confirmed, would suggest new approaches to treatment.”
Michael S. Fanselow, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles: “It has always been amazing to me how a single experience can radically and permanently change brain function. When these changes have such an adverse effect on people, as happens in PTSD, it becomes urgent for us to understand what happens and what needs to be done to restore normal adaptive function. Obviously the NARSAD Grant is a tremendous honor. The project will allow us to pursue and develop new avenues of research we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Specifically, it should recognize that fear normally serves a critical function and is a necessary adaptation. But experiences that provoke PTSD lead to nonadaptive function in those normally beneficial circuits. The Foundation is giving us the opportunity to directly compare the ensemble of neural activity that leads to both adaptive and nonadaptive fear and to see what is similar and dissimilar about that neural activity.”
Stephen R. Marder, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles: “The NARSAD Grant will allow me to begin a new area of research. In recent years I have focused on strategies for improving the ability of people with schizophrenia to improve their social interactions. For many of these people, difficulties in interpreting social signals have had serious effects on their ability to succeed at jobs, school, and rehabilitation programs. My research will focus on studying promising medications such as oxytocin which may improve the ability of patients to improve their social skills during a training program.”
Read more about the entire D.I. Class of 2011 HERE.
The recent suicide of professional hockey player Wade Belak is the latest in a string of sports tragedies—his death follows those of New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard and Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien. There have been many others over the years. Just last February, NFL Football player Dave Duerson of the Chicago Bears committed suicide. Duerson believed the answers would be found through research, and he decided to donate his brain to science before he died. It was found that he suffered from successive traumatic brain injuries that may have contributed to his deteriorating psychiatric state. Research has shown us that mental illness is often a combination of environment and genetic predisposition. Boston University’s recent study on retired athletes found that those who had had three or more concussions had a three-fold higher incidence of depression compared to players with fewer brain injuries. While these studies find so much in the physical, there is an important aspect that few are willing to expose: the devastating social stigma that comes with mental illness. This can be even crueler for men in our society than for women. We’ve created an environment where we idolize athletes, as well as men in general some argue, for being tough, resilient and infallible. Enforcing these stereotypes leaves no room for vulnerability, disclosure, or to do anything other than “tough it out.” Would any of these athletes be alive today had they disclosed their mental illness to an accepting society and received better treatment? An astounding 1 in 4 Americans—that equals 77 MILLION Americans—suffer a mental illness. There is no escaping the fact that this statistic reveals we are all personally affected in some way by mental illness. We have triumphed in overcoming what seemed in recent decades to be irreversible stigmas like cancer, HIV, and sexual orientation. It is time to overcome the stigma of mental illness. It is time to create change in our own circles and exchanges, and elevate this topic into the fore of our societal dialogue. We can celebrate the fact that breakthroughs are being made every day through research, and that science continues to illuminate the profound mysteries of the brain. Let’s join in our power to break the silence so that no one must suffer alone. Lives can and will be improved, and it all begins with our willingness to talk—and act.