Psychiatry :: UCLA Faculty Recognized for Outstanding Achievement in Psychiatric Research

Three UCLA scientists will be awarded top prizes for psychiatric research on Friday by NARSAD: The Mental Health Research Association, the world’s largest donor-supported organization dedicated to funding innovative research on severe mental illnesses. Lori Altshuler, M.D.; Joaquin M. Fuster, M.D., Ph.D., and Tyrone D. Cannon, Ph.D., all of UCLA’s Semel Institute, will be presented their awards at NARSAD’s 19th annual ceremony in New York City.

In addition, six other UCLA researchers will receive NARSAD’s Young Investigator Award, given to assist promising scientists entering research. The UCLA scientists were chosen from a pool of 789 applicants and will each receive $60,000 from NARSAD over the next two years for their respective studies.

Altshuler, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the director of the Mood Disorders Research Program, has been awarded the $50,000 Falcone Prize for Affective Disorders Research. The Falcone Prize recognizes an outstanding scientist who is investigating the causes, pathophysiology, treatment or prevention of mood disorders.

Her research focuses on bipolar disorder, and women and depression. In her studies of the severe mood disorders of recurrent unipolar depression and bipolar illness, Altshuler uncovered brain mechanisms involved in these disorders that revealed abnormalities in temporal lobe structure. Her work in therapeutics also was noted, in which she describes a range of interventions for depression and mania. Additionally, her lab has conducted important studies on depression and medication in women during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

In addition, Altshuler and Cannon, the Staglin Family Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, have received the $100,000 Distinguished Investigator Award. They are two of 20 established investigators who are receiving the award to advance their neuropsychiatric research.

Altshuler was recognized for her use of brain imaging to understand the relationship between grey and white matter brain structures and behavior in people with bipolar disorder. Cannon was recognized for his insights into the Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia-1 gene, or DISC1, that is thought to be involved in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Fuster, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Semel Institute, has been awarded the $40,000 Goldman-Rakic Prize for Cognitive Neuroscience for excellence in neurobiological research at the cellular, physiological or behavioral levels that may lead to a greater understanding of the cerebral cortex. Fuster is an expert on the function of the prefrontal cortex and the mechanisms of working memory. He currently focuses on the cellular dynamics of active memory.

In 1970, Fuster discovered the so-called memory cells in the prefrontal cortex of the primate ? nerve cells that retain information for prospective actions. Because of their “time-bridging” capability, these cells are widely accepted to be at the physiological foundation of the executive functions of the frontal lobe, thus essential for planning and for the temporal organization of behavior, speech and reasoning.

Finally, the six NARSAD Young Investigator Awards will be presented to UCLA’s Hugh T. Blair, Ph.D.; Naomi Eisenberger, Ph.D.; Carrie L. Heusner, Ph.D.; Anna Matynia, Ph.D; Anna M. Muller, Ph.D., and Syed Naqvi, M.D.

The awards dinner will take place in Manhattan’s Pierre Hotel.

Recognizing the expanding frontier of brain science and the acceleration of progress in psychiatric research, NARSAD’s annual prizes are awarded to leading scientists for their outstanding achievements in the areas of schizophrenia, mood disorders, childhood and adolescent disorders, and cognitive neuroscience research. Recently, the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression adopted the business name “NARSAD: The Mental Health Research Association” to reflect the broader funding interests of the organization.

The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is an interdisciplinary research and education institute devoted to the understanding of complex human behavior, including the genetic, biological, behavioral and sociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior, and the causes and consequences of neuropsychiatric disorders. In addition to conducting fundamental research, the institute faculty seeks to develop effective treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, improve access to mental health services, and shape national health policy regarding neuropsychiatric disorders.

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