UPMC Researchers Receive Grants From NARSAD

PITTSBURGH, March 19 -- Four researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) this week received grants totaling $240,000 from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD).

Jair C. Soares, M.D., senior resident in the department of psychiatry, is measuring membrane phospholipid levels in blood platelets to determine the effects that the drug lithium has in selected membrane phospholipids in patients with bipolar disorder, which is characterized by swings in mood from depression to mania. Dr. Soares' research may lead to a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that cause bipolar disorder, and how lithium works in treating patients with this disorder.

Ravinder Reddy, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, is seeking to learn if schizophrenic patients who do not respond well to treatment may be identified by a specific, potentially reversible, chemical change in the membranes of brain cells. If this is true, Dr. Reddy's findings could lead to the development of novel treatment approaches that result in a more favorable outcome for schizophrenic patients.

Cameron S. Carter, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, is using positron emission tomography (PET) to examine the function of the anterior cingulate gyrus, an area of the frontal lobe of the brain which plays an important role in cognitive functions. Schizophrenia patients have cognitive deficits which impair their ability to function normally, yet current treatments have little or no impact on this aspect of the illness. The anterior cingulate is abnormal in schizophrenia, but the role these abnormalities play in cognitive disturbances is not yet understood. Dr. Carter's study will help define the significance of abnormalities of the anterior cingulate gyrus and lay the foundation for further work directed towards developing effective treatments for the cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia, with the goal of enabling patients to lead more satisfying and productive lives.

Beatriz Luna, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry, is using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at normal brain development in children ages 8 to 17, a crucial period when disorders like schizophrenia often emerge. Dr. Luna's research will provide a backdrop for further research into developmental problems that may lead to schizophrenia.

"NARSAD's supporters believe that research provides the only hope for those suffering from serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and depression," said Constance E. Lieber, president of NARSAD's board of directors. "In 11 years, NARSAD has made significant contributions to psychiatric research. This year's grants represent the brightest scientists

and the most promising studies in mental illness research." Money for the grants was donated by people with mental illness, their families, friends and colleagues, to support studies to improve the understanding and treatment of severe mental illnesses.

NARSAD is the largest publicly supported, nongovernmental funder of psychiatric research in the nation. Since its inception in 1987, NARSAD has provided 1,378 grants to 739 scientists in 117 universities and medical research institutions totaling $51.5 million.

WPIC is one of the UPMC's core hospitals and programs, which also include Montefiore University Hospital, Presbyterian University Hospital and Eye and Ear Hospital.

SOURCE University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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