The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation celebrated 30 years of awarding research grants, honored its Scientific Council, and announced the winners of its annual Klerman & Freedman Prizes, recognizing exceptional clinical and basic research by scientists who have been supported by Young Investigator Grants. The grants enable early career scientists to pursue innovative ideas in neurobiological and psychosocial research, garner pilot data and generate "proof" of concept for the early detection, treatment, prevention and cure of mental illnesses.
In recognition of its 30th anniversary, the Foundation published Pathways to the Future: Thoughts and Insights from the Foundation Outstanding Achievement Prizewinners, a compilation of short statements on the current state and future prospects of brain and behavior research. Many of the contributors are members of the Foundation's all-volunteer Scientific Council, comprised of 168 leading experts across disciplines in brain and behavior research, including two Nobel Prize winners; four former directors and the current director of the National Institute of Mental Health; four recipients of the National Medal of Science; 13 members of the National Academy of Sciences; 26 Chairs of Psychiatry and Neuroscience Departments at leading colleges and universities around the world; and 55 members of the National Academy of Medicine. A robust discussion of the topic opened the evening's festivities led by Herbert Pardes, M.D. President of the Foundation's Scientific Council, Executive Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Professor Psychiatry, Columbia & Weill Cornell.
"There still remains much to be learned, but brain and behavior research has made enormous strides since the Foundation's inception. In fact, recent technological advances have made possible experiments that would have seemed like science fiction 30 years ago," says Jeffrey Borenstein, MD, president and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. "The Foundation's impact is only possible through the collaboration between scientists and our generous donors who understand that investing in brain and behavior research will continue to bring better treatment and, ultimately, cures and methods of prevention."
The Foundation is the top non-governmental funder of research grants for the early detection, treatment, prevention and cure of mental illness, which affects one in five people; 100 percent of every dollar raised for research–all from private donations–goes to support research grants.
Six young scientists received recognition for their remarkable work in brain and behavior research with the awarding of the Klerman & Freedman prizes, named for Gerald Klerman, M.D. and Daniel Freedman, M.D., neuropsychiatry pioneers who played seminal roles as researchers, teachers, physicians and administrators. The annual prizes recognize young researchers whose work in child and adolescent depression, anxiety, unipolar and bipolar depression, and schizophrenia further advance the quest to identify the biological roots of mental illness, develop new diagnostic tools, more effective and targeted treatments, and pave the way toward prevention.
"The Klerman and Freedman Prizes recognize outstanding talent across the field of neuropsychiatry," noted Dr. Pardes. "The Foundation's support is increasingly important during this downturn in funding for research, especially for young scientists. This early career recognition often serves as a precursor to further accomplishments, awards and prizes," he adds, noting that NARSAD Young Investigator Grantees receive an average of 11 to 19 times the original grant amount in subsequent funding.
The 2017 Klerman Prize for Exceptional Clinical Research was awarded to Jennifer C. Felger, Ph.D., MSCR, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, and Laboratory Director of the Emory Behavioral Immunology Program at Emory University School of Medicine, and an Associate Member of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University.
Dr. Felger is being honored for her work on The Neurocircuitry of Inflammation-Induced Anhedonia in Depression, which combines basic and clinical approaches to understand how inflammation affects neurotransmitter systems and neurocircuits in the brain to affect behavior in patients with major depression or medical illnesses such as cancer.
"The Young Investigator award was an invaluable opportunity that allowed me to have my first independent funding and has really helped to launch my research program," she says. "With this award, I was able to determine the impact of inflammation on reward circuitry in patients with depression. The award was critical to the overall goal of my work to develop better treatments for patients with depression and high inflammation, who are often resistant to standard antidepressant therapies."
The 2017 Freedman Prize for Exceptional Basic Research was awarded to Ilana B. Witten, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Neuroscience Institute at Princeton University, whose lab works on interrogating the neural circuitry that supports reward learning and decision making. Dr. Witten's work, including her Young Investigator grant Dopamine, Working Memory, and Schizophrenia: Dissecting Spatiotemporal Dynamics, focused on the role of dopamine in cognition.
"My Young Investigator Grant arrived at a critical juncture in my career, just as I was establishing my own independent research program," she says. "This funding gave me the resources that I needed to take risks and explore new research directions. Thanks in part to the support from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, I have since been successful in securing funds from the NIH and other foundations to support my research."
Klerman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Danai Dima, Ph.D., a Lecturer in Cognitive Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology at City, University of London, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London, and to Carolyn Rodriguez, M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Director of the Translational Therapeutics Lab at Stanford University, and a Consult-Liaison Psychiatrist at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System.
Freedman Prize honorable mentions were awarded to Marcelo de Oliveira Dietrich, M.D., Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Comparative Medicine and Neuroscience at the Yale School of Medicine, and to Elise B. Robinson, Sc.D., M.P.H., an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute.
For more detailed information on the Klerman and Freedman prize winners and their research, visit https://www.bbrfoundation.org/grants-prizes/klerman-freedman-prizes.
About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation:
For the past 30 years the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has been committed to alleviating the suffering of mental illness by awarding grants that lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. The Foundation funds the most innovative ideas in neuroscience and psychiatry to better understand the causes and develop new ways to treat brain and behavior disorders. These disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $365 million to fund more than 5,000 grants to more than 4,000 leading scientists around the world. This has led to over $3.5 billion in additional funding for these scientists. The Foundation is also dedicated to educating the public about mental health and the importance of research, including the impact that new discoveries have on improving the lives of those with mental illness, which will ultimately enable people to live full, happy and productive lives. For more information, visit http://www.bbrfoundation.org.