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Research Awards Support Creative Projects by Early Career Scientists

Press Release

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The National Institute of Mental Health is seeking more BRAINS for 2010 by offering a second round of Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists (BRAINS) . The program calls for innovative and groundbreaking research projects from early stage investigators to explore the complex mechanisms underlying mental disorders or novel treatments and prevention strategies. Proposed projects should address research priorities and gap areas identified in theNIMH Strategic Plan. Researchers interested in applying for these awards must submit their applications by Dec. 9, 2009.

"The creative and ambitious projects proposed by the first round of applicants, focused on neurodevelopment, have been very inspiring. We're honored to help foster the early careers of these scientists," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

The re-issue of this initiative follows closely after NIMH awarded the first round of BRAINS grants in September, which focused on the topic of neurodevelopment.

The seven first-round awardees and their research topics are:

  • Sean Deoni, Ph.D., of Brown University School of Engineering will develop and optimize a novel imaging method to study a critical step in brain development called myelin maturation during normal development and to link this process with cognitive and behavioral development. Myelin is akin to electrical insulation, allowing for more rapid and efficient communication between nerve cells in the brain. Examining the relationship between myelin maturation and cognitive and behavioral development is critical for distinguishing abnormalities that may result in mental disorders.
  • Daniela Kaufer, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley aims to study in rats whether early adverse events alter myelin maturation, in turn increasing vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood, and whether such changes can be treated with genetic therapies targeting myelination. This research also may apply to studies on other mental disorders linked to abnormal myelination patterns such as depression or schizophrenia.
  • Daniel Dickstein, M.D., of Brown University School of Medicine will use behavioral testing, brain scans, and genetic data to identify possible biomarkers for predicting the development of bipolar disorder as opposed to less distinct or less severe forms of the disorder. Because pediatric bipolar disorder is increasingly recognized as a public health issue, and rates of diagnoses have increased in recent years, such research is critical for developing objective, accurate diagnostic tools and treatments.
  • Stephen Gilman, Sc.D., of Harvard University will examine the effects of maternal and fetal stress, early social adversity, and related gene-environment interactions on lifetime risk of depression. The broad focus on biological and social factors will help to better characterize the role of early life events in the development of depression and may reveal targets for reducing health disparities.
  • Nicholas Sokol, Ph.D., of Indiana University Bloomington, will use a fruit fly model to study the molecular foundations of neuroplasticity, in which the brain may change over time in response to hormones, experiences, and other external events. Understanding the mechanisms underlying these changes is important to research on mental disorders, many of which appear to be related to impaired neuroplasticity. It may also lead to eventual development of targeted molecular therapies for mental disorders.
  • Consuelo Walss-Bass, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio will explore the role of genes that regulate inflammation during teen development. Because inflammation and other immune system abnormalities have been implicated in many mental disorders, this research will help advance the understanding of how these disorders begin.
  • Linda Wilbrecht, Ph.D., of the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco will study the development of brain circuits related to processing information about safety and danger in mice. The findings may help inform human studies of anxiety and risk-taking, and possibly reveal measures for testing behavioral therapies to correct brain circuit imbalances.

About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH  is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website .

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