NEW YORK – April 10, 2008 — The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), a charity dedicated to mental health research, has announced that it has selected two Columbia University Medical Center and New York State Psychiatric Institute researchers for its prestigious Distinguished Investigator Award: J. John Mann, M.D. and Ezra Susser, M.D., Dr.P.H.
NARSAD will provide each researcher with a one-year grant of $100,000 to advance psychiatric research in their areas of specialty: Dr. Mann in major depression and Dr. Susser in schizophrenia. They are among 11 outstanding scientists this year receiving NARSAD’s Distinguished Investigator Award, a highly competitive grant program for investigators of brain and psychiatric disorders who have established themselves as leaders in their fields.
Dr. J. John Mann, M.D.
Dr. Mann, the Paul Janssen Professor of Translational Neuroscience (in psychiatry and radiology) and chief of molecular imaging at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute, plans to test a hypothesis regarding the mechanism of action of ketamine, an anesthetic drug that has been noted to have an extremely rapid antidepressant effect. The research holds promise for development of new treatments for major depressive disorder, a condition affecting more than 14 million Americans per year.
Ketamine influences the activity of glutamate, a major neurotransmitter, causing a surge in glutamate release and a decrease in the activity of glutamate receptors in the brain. Dr. Mann’s inquiry into ketamine’s mechanism of action will be pursued with the aid of advanced brain-imaging technology. He also wants to ascertain whether the glutamate release induced by ketamine is proportionate to the degree of improvements in depression symptoms.
Dr. Ezra Susser, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Dr. Susser, the Anna Cheskis Gelman & Murray Charles Gelman Professor and chair of epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and New York State Psychiatric Institute, will examine whether genetic mutations not inherited from one’s parents can help explain the association between prenatal famine and schizophrenia. Over the past decade, work by his group and others has established that early prenatal exposure to famine increases risk of schizophrenia, but the biological basis for this is unknown. Dr. Susser has hypothesized that maternal deficiency of the B vitamin folate could impair the necessary process of DNA repair and cause genomic instability in the fetus. Due to rapid advances in genomic technology, it is now feasible for him to explore this hypothesis. In the proposed study, DNA samples will be collected from individuals in China with schizophrenia who experienced famine prenatally, and from other groups, including the parents of these individuals, for comparison.
“Drs. Mann and Susser exemplify the kind of individuals we try to single out for the Distinguished Investigator Award: outstanding scientists, representing the very best in the field, with important bodies of work behind them, and currently pursuing innovative and promising research,” said Geoff Birkett, president of NARSAD.
“It is gratifying to see these two outstanding researchers honored by NARSAD, and that these awards will help them to further their contributions to the field of psychiatry,” said Lee Goldman, M.D., executive vice president of Columbia University and dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry is among our centers of excellence, and it has extremely productive relationships with many other departments in the College of Physicians and Surgeons and throughout Columbia University Medical Center.”
“The work of each of this year’s Distinguished Investigators is certain to advance the state of knowledge about serious psychiatric disorders,” added Herbert Pardes, M.D., president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, who is also president of NARSAD’s Scientific Council. The council, comprised of 103 prominent neuroscientists, reviews the research proposals NARSAD receives and annually recommends grants.
“The work of John Mann and Ezra Susser is extremely impressive, and, like that of our other nine Distinguished Investigator awardees, has very real potential to produce insights that will lead to new approaches to treatment for serious mental illness,” commented Jack Barchas, M.D., chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and chair of the committee that selected the winning proposals.
NARSAD’s 2008 Distinguished Investigator Award recipients are involved in a wide variety of vital research projects, ranging from the genetics of mental illness to innovative brain imaging studies. Their work should bring new scientific insight to such conditions as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and childhood developmental disorders, as well as other disorders affecting adults and children.
NARSAD created the Distinguished Investigator Award to support highly significant research by established scientists—full professors or their equivalent—who are on the cusp of a breakthrough, or who are poised to test an innovative new idea that has the potential to make a significant advance in a given area of research.
NARSAD also offers two other annual awards. The Independent Investigator Award provides two-year grants of $100,000 to mid-career scientists, such as associate professors or their equivalent. The Young Investigator Award is designed to help promising scientists entering research—i.e., post-doctoral fellows, advanced standing medical residents and assistant professors—to generate pilot data necessary for larger grants.
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 more than $230 million through 3,470 research grants to nearly 2,700 scientists at 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 website at www.narsad.org.
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Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, pre-clinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The medical center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree. Among the most selective medical schools in the country, the school is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York State and one of the largest in the country. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.
Columbia Psychiatry is ranked among the best departments and psychiatric research facilities in the nation and has contributed greatly to the understanding of and current treatment for psychiatric disorders including depression, suicide, schizophrenia, bipolar and anxiety disorders, and childhood psychiatric disorders. Located at the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center campus in the Washington Heights community of Upper Manhattan, the department enjoys a collaborative relationship with physicians in various disciplines at Columbia University’s College of Physician and Surgeons. For more information, please visit http://columbiapsychiatry.org/.