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7 CAMH scientists win Young Investigator awards focused on breakthrough research

For Immediate Release January 12, 2011 (Toronto) Seven scientists at Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have been awarded Young Investigator grant awards by the U.S.-based NARSAD: The Brain and Behavior Research Fund.

The CAMH awards will fund genetic, clinical and neuroimaging studies that will ultimately guide future treatments and personalized approaches for people with schizophrenia and depression.

The 124-member NARSAD Scientific Council, a volunteer group of pre-eminent mental health researchers, leads the rigorous and competitive process of identifying the most promising ideas for NARSAD grant awards each year. NARSAD aims to alleviate the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that will lead to breakthroughs in scientific research. Each award is worth up to $60,000 over two years.

"This body of research represents the cutting-edge of brain and behavior research," said Benita Shobe, NARSAD president and CEO. "Young Investigators are selected for their innovation and potential to improve the lives of people living with mental illness through enhanced treatments and therapies and a better understanding of the causes of mental illness."

"We are thrilled that our researchers have received these awards, which are known to be important in establishing the careers of young scientists," says Dr. Bruce Pollock, Vice-President of Research at CAMH.

Awards were granted for the following CAMH projects:

Dr. Daniel Blumberger will look at specific brain function deficits and treatment resistance in older adults with depression. His study will explore whether these deficits, which occur with aging, predict their response to treatment. These findings will ultimately lead to more effective treatments.

Dr. George Foussias will be using functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in people with schizophrenia while they do everyday tasks in a virtual reality environment. Not only will this approach measure motivational deficits and affected brain regions more objectively than past methods, but the results are also expected to help guide the development of future treatments for these deficits in schizophrenia.

Dr. Zachary Kaminsky will conduct research on major depression in identical twins in a study involving epigenetics. This field of research examines how developmentally acquired or environmentally triggered changes to chemical attachments on DNA can alter the ability of genes to produce proteins. He will search for epigenetic markers in the blood, which will provide the basis for early diagnostic and therapeutic developments for depression.

Dr. Romina Mizrahi will use a brain imaging technique developed at CAMH to "see" brain inflammation levels in people with schizophrenia. This will be useful to test new treatment strategies and understand how inflammation relates to the severity of schizophrenia.

Dr. Tarek Rajji will study the effects of a brain stimulation technique to enhance brain plasticity, and consequently address attention and memory problems, in people with schizophrenia. Deficits with these complex thinking processes are common features of the illness, and improvements could enhance individuals' ability to function in society as well as their overall quality of life.

Dr. Arun Tiwari's research will examine the role that genes play on side effects that some people with schizophrenia experience after taking antipsychotic medicines. Understanding the genetic causes of the side effects that lead to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other related symptoms will help predict who is at risk and which medications to take.

Dr. Aristotle Voineskos will conduct research on a brain stimulation treatment among people with schizophrenia to improve "working memory" deficits, which can lead to improvements in real-world function. In addition, he will examine whether specific genes predict someone's response to this treatment, in an attempt to personalize treatments for each individual.


Contact: Michael Torres
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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