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June

Eight IOP researchers scoop NARSAD young investigator awards

JUNE 23, 2008

Eight scientists from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, have received NARSAD 2008 Young Investigator Awards worth $60,000 each.  These are in the form of two year grants for research into psychiatric disorders.  NARSAD  'the world's leading charity dedicated to mental health research' has selected the eight IOP based scientists from amongst 220 early-career scientists in the United States and 11 other countries to receive funds this year to advance their research.

Institute of Psychiatry researchers selected to receive a grant are covering a variety of topics: :

• Elvira Bramon, M.D., is studying the genetic basis of biological markers of psychosis risk.  She hopes to be able to identify new candidate genes for psychosis and better understand the mechanism by which they lead to the onset of the condition.

• Marinos Kyriakopoulos, M.D., will use imaging to identify ways in which brain structure and function during adolescence differ between patients with schizophrenia who have abnormal variations in specific genes and those who do not. 

• Julia M. Lappin, M.B.Ch.B., M.Sc., M.R.C.Psych.,  will use Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging to discover if there is abnormal function of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, emotion and motivation, in 40 subjects at risk for developing schizophrenia. She will compare their brain dopamine function before and immediately after they develop their first episode of illness and determine whether dopamine function is related to the amount of stress that they experience.

• Jonathan S. Mill, Ph.D., seeks to understand the link between adolescent cannabis exposure and schizophrenia. He will use cutting-edge epigenomic profiling methods to assess chemical alteration across the genome changes associated with exposure to cannabis.

• Chiara Nosarti, MSc., Ph.D., will investigate whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to predict the development of psychosis in those at high risk. 

• Kuan-Pin Su, M.D., will explore the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids and their association with somatic symptoms in patients with depression.  Results from this study could provide a new nutritional perspective on mechanisms and treatment of depression.

• Lucia R. Valmaggia, MSc., Ph.D.,  will look at the impact of early adverse experiences on vulnerability to psychosis. The main objective is to examine the effect of social stress on biology and symptoms in individuals at high risk of psychosis using state-of-the-art methods.

• Evangelos Vassos, M.D., Ph.D., will investigate the heritability and genetic basis of subtypes of schizophrenia. The hypothesis is that schizophrenia is a heterogeneous disorder with possibly etiologically distinct subtypes.

“NARSAD’s Young Investigator awards play a unique and invaluable role. The awards have a proud history of attracting the finest young talent to the field and expanding the research potential for mental health,” said Herbert Pardes, M.D., president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, who is also president of NARSAD’s Scientific Council. “We are confident that the work of these Young Investigators will accelerate progress in the study of psychiatric disorders.”

Comprised of 103 prominent leaders in mental health research, the Scientific Council reviews the project proposals NARSAD receives to select innovative, promising studies for funding support.

NARSAD created the Young Investigator Award to help the most promising scientists who are now entering research—i.e., post-doctoral fellows, advanced-standing medical residents, and assistant professors—to generate pilot data necessary for larger grants. NARSAD also annually offers a Distinguished Investigator Award, supporting innovative research by full professors or their equivalent with $100,000 one-year grants, and an Independent Investigator Award, providing two-year grants of $100,000 to mid-career scientists, such as associate professors or their equivalent.

NARSAD raises funds to advance research on the causes, treatment and prevention of psychiatric disorders. Since it began giving grants in 1987, as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, NARSAD has awarded $233 million through 3,474 research grants to scientists in 428 institutions in the U.S. and 27 other countries.  For additional information on the work of NARSAD, the research it supports, and various psychiatric disorders, visit the organization’s Web site at www.narsad.org.


Notes to editors

Abstracts
Elvira Bramon, M.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, sets out on an investigation of the genetic basis of biological markers of psychosis risk.  Schizophrenia and bipolar illness are often described under the more general term psychosis. These disorders run in families and are under substantial genetic influence.  Psychosis is not a single-gene disease; instead, there are a number of genes involved, each of them having a small effect and making individuals more vulnerable to develop psychosis.  Dr. Bramon’s project involves studying families that have members affected with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other forms of psychosis. By using biological tests (in addition to conventional clinical diagnostics) Dr. Bramon hopes to be able to identify new candidate genes for psychosis and better understand the mechanism by which they lead to the onset of the disease.

Marinos Kyriakopoulos, M.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will use imaging techniques in order to identify ways in which brain structure and function during adolescence differ between patients with schizophrenia who have the abnormal variations in specific genes and those who do not.  Studying these genes that are linked to the production of abnormal proteins can further increase our understanding of the underlying illness mechanisms. Also, adolescence is a critical period in the development of schizophrenia and may offer an important window of opportunity for prevention.

Julia M. Lappin, M.B.Ch.B., M.Sc., M.R.C.Psych., of the Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will use Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging to discover if there is abnormal function of dopamine in 40 subjects at risk for developing schizophrenia. She will compare their brain dopamine function before and immediately after they develop their first episode of illness and determine whether dopamine function is related to the amount of stress that they experience.

Jonathan S. Mill, Ph.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, seeks to understand the link of adolescent cannabis exposure to schizophrenia. Studies have shown that exposure to cannabis, especially during adolescence, increases the risk of developing schizophrenia later in life. Dr. Mill will use cutting-edge epigenomic profiling methods to assess genome-wide methylation changes associated with cannabis exposure.

Chiara Nosarti, MSc., Ph.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will investigate whether functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used to predict the development of psychosis in those at high risk.  The likelihood of psychosis in subjects at high risk is particularly associated with impairments on complex memory tasks. These tasks entail the integration of executive and mnemonic processing, consistent with the neuroimaging data implicating the prefrontal and medial temporal cortices in the risk of transition. Such observations suggest that the interaction of the prefrontal and medial temporal regions may be critically impaired in these individuals. Research in individuals who are at high risk of subsequently developing psychosis provides a powerful means of investigating the mechanisms underlying the disorder. It is also clinically important; as recent research suggests, that the initiation of treatment before the onset of psychosis may prevent or delay the development of the disorder.

Kuan-Pin Su, M.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will explore the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids and their association of somatic symptoms in patients with depression.  Dr. Su will observe patients with major depression, measure the severity of somatic and depressive symptoms, and analyze blood levels.  Results from this study could provide a new nutritional perspective on the mechanism and treatment of depression.

Lucia R. Valmaggia, MSc., Ph.D., of Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will look at the impact that early adverse experiences have on the vulnerability to psychosis. The main objective of her study is to examine the effect of social stress on biology and symptoms in individuals at high risk of psychosis using state-of-the-art methods. This will be the largest study linking social and biological factors in a population at risk of developing psychosis, thereby providing new insights into the condition.

Evangelos Vassos, M.D., Ph.D., Institute of Psychiatry/King's College London/University of London, will conduct a collaborative study and investigate the heritability and genetic basis of subtypes of schizophrenia. The hypothesis is that schizophrenia is a heterogeneous disorder with possibly etiologically distinct subtypes. Reliable distinction with refined taxonomy would reduce the heterogeneity and consequently would facilitate the attempts to identify genes and other etiological factors.
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