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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 Dolores Emory
Donor, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
This is a true story about what happened to a family when mental illness struck one of its children.
My son Todd Christopher O’Connell was born April 18, 1965. It was an Easter Sunday. Everyone said “Todd is going to be special because he was born on Easter Sunday.” And special he was. He was gifted and talented. He was an honor student and showed such promising potential in art, poetry and early language skills. He was reading at three years old. Everyone was amazed at his precociousness.
Unfortunately, a few weeks after his 18th birthday, Todd became mentally ill. For the next 26 years he was in and out of mental institutions and treatment programs. He was a complicated mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar, with severe paranoia. Todd took lots of medicines, but nothing ever seemed to work. Todd often referred to himself as a tortured soul.
Now his suffering is over. He made a deliberate choice not to go on. Todd is at peace.
I will miss my son every day, as will his brother Brett. He was our soldier. He marched proudly with a debilitating disease until he could march no more.
None of us have surfaced “the same.” There has been growth and enlightenment, along with regression and submission. There have been so many conflicts of emotion amongst us that it is difficult to name them all.
I tell our story, however, because every day other people are beginning their journey. My heart aches for them and my prayers are with them. I want these mothers and fathers to know that they are not alone. There are others that share their pain, and understand their anger.
I believe the answer is in science. The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation makes it possible for scientific research to be done and for new treatments to be created, so that people like my son Todd will not have to suffer the despair and anguish of mental illness.
I want people to know in the depths of despair and hopelessness, a strength and life can reinvent itself. You can ride it out. Is that advice? I wouldn’t dare. I took the hard road, the long road, and I only want to say when you feel that you can’t go on, you can, because you will. And then you won’t be “you,” you will become a different “you,” a new “you.” And then you will join a different world, the world of “seeing, caring, and knowing,” not a world you would have chosen, but a world that has chosen you. Through this you’ll find an inner strength and wisdom that can only come from having been there.
I’m So Proud of my Todd
by Dolores Emory
I’m so proud of my Todd
He is a winner with a loser disease
He recognizes and works hard with doctors
On regulating his meds.
Everyone at the board and care love him.
He’s generous, kind, thoughtful and happy.
He helps others.
He has not lost his memory and he cares about the young people that come and go from the
board and care. He knows everyone’s medicines and diagnosis, including his own.
He has found the strength to give up the street drugs.
It was hard.
I ought to know.
Now when we go to lunch on Saturdays we enjoy each other,
we talk rationally
we talk lovingly about the past.
It’s amazing how the right doctor and the right board and care can take away a lot of the worry and pain.
I’m so proud of my Todd.
Each day he faces the day with new hope,
He follows the cures with interest.
He is at peace at Casa with Barbara.
And that gives me peace.
It has been a long journey and there are still times that I resent it.
If Todd feels that way he never mentions it,
I’m so very proud of him.
At this point I might ask God for the things to make his life complete.
The first is that his father would visit and embrace him.
The other is that the Rolling Stones would stop by.
After all I’ve purchased their tapes over and over and over.
I believe I have purchased Beggars’ Banquet 100 times alone.
In the days when Todd kept giving them away, and trading them.
Those days are over. And I’m so very, very proud of my son.
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.
My name is Ken Harrison and like so many of you, I know first-hand the challenges of caring for a loved one with mental illness. And while each of us faces unique issues, the need for better treatments and therapies is what we are all in search of.
That’s where the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation makes a difference. As a board member and an advocate, I’ve agreed to Chair TeamUp! America to support research in communities throughout the country, and I’m inviting you to join me by forming a team in your neighborhood.
TeamUp! America is a community-driven fundraising challenge with a goal to raise $250,000 by November 16, 2011. 100% of the money you raise will fund leading research institutions in your home state.
As the nation’s leading not for profit funding mental illness, the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has been funding breakthroughs to help the 1 in 4 Americans* diagnosed with a mental illness for nearly 25 years. Guided by an all volunteer Scientific Council that includes 2 Nobel Prize winning scientists, the Foundation is committed to funding cures.
The TeamUp! America campaign will not only raise much needed money for research – research that will one day fund those cures, but it will also lessen the stigma that 77 million Americans* deal with each and every day. Please join me and your neighbors as we Team Up! America.
It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!
2. Build your team with your family, friends, and neighbors
3. Hold a fundraiser or make a donation to show your support
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or call 800.829.8289.
Thanks for supporting TeamUp! America.
John Ken Harrison, II
Board Member, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
Chairman, TeamUp! America
*Based on the 2010 US Census: 77 million of the 311 million Americans (www.census.gov) or 1 in 4 Americans experiences a brain and behavior disorder each year (National Institute of Mental Health)