Stimulating Studies: Federal Funds Accelerate Psychiatric Research

May 12, 2010

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, McLean researchers received individual grants totaling an impressive $7.7 million. These highly competitive funds, made available through the National Institutes of Health, are being put to excellent use at McLean where investigators are conducting a range of research initiatives, from searching for biomarkers for attention deficit disorder to exploring the genetic causes of substance abuse.

Elena Chartoff, PhD, an investigator in the Mailman Research Center’s Behavioral Genetics Laboratory, is using equipment purchased with her ARRA grant to further her research on opiate withdrawal. Individuals trying to recover from addiction to opiates, such as heroin and morphine, often relapse because they feel depressed and anxious. Treating these initial withdrawal symptoms, therefore, is critically important, she explains.

McLean researchers

Three of McLean’s ARRA recipients: Steven Lowen, PhD, Elena Chartoff, PhD, and Gordana Vitaliano, MD

Chartoff is exploring how morphine withdrawal causes surges of the neurotransmitter glutamate in regions of the brain associated with depression. “If these surges are responsible for withdrawal-induced depression, then drugs that block glutamate’s actions in the brain might provide an effective treatment,” she says.

Chartoff is hopeful that a clearer understanding of the role glutamate plays in this particular type of depression will lead to more effective, targeted treatments to help minimize relapse.

“People often relapse because they feel physically and emotionally ill as they try to recover from addiction. If we can understand and treat the depression they feel during withdrawal, we may be able to prevent relapse,” she says.

McLean Investigators Receive Recovery Act Support

Approximately 20,000 researchers from across the United States applied for federal grants through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Only a few hundred of these applicants received awards. The following McLean researchers were among this select group.

Who: Rajeev Desai, PhD, Preclinical Pharmacology
What: Using preclinical animal models to investigate the potential of nicotine-based medications for treating methamphetamine addiction.

Who: Blaise Frederick, PhD, Brain Imaging Center
What: Using the most current, state-of-the-art magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study chemical reactions in the brains of individuals with severe psychotic illness and mood disorders.

Who: Ole Isacson, Dr Med Sci, Neuroregeneration Center
What: Using induced pluripotent stem cells to identify biomarkers in individuals with genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease.

Who: Steven Lowen, PhD, Brain Imaging Center
What: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to examine how tobacco-related cues, especially odors, lead to relapse in substance use disorders.

Who: Uwe Rudolph, Dr Med, Genetic Neuropharmacology
What: Using animal models to study the genetics of depression and substance use disorders.

Who: Kai Sonntag, MD, PhD, Shervert H. Frazier Research Institute
What: Using molecular biology to investigate a new concept for the origin of Parkinson’s disease.

Who: Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, Developmental Biopsychiatry
What: Using neuroimaging and motor activity measures to search for definitive biomarkers for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Who: Anju Vasudevan, PhD, Molecular Neurobiology
What: Using cell-migration techniques to elaborate vascular and GABA neuron interactions during brain development to help tailor novel therapeutic approaches for schizophrenia, autism, and intellectual disabilities.

Who: Gordana Vitaliano, MD, Brain Imaging Center
What: Using MRI nanotechnology to enhance understanding of drug addiction.

Why: Each of these projects will further the understanding of psychiatric illness and substance use disorders, with the hope of leading to more effective and better targeted treatments.

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