(New York, N.Y., April 9, 2009) — René Hen, Ph.D., of Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute, has been selected by NARSAD, the leading charity for research on mental health disorders, to receive its prestigious Distinguished Investigator Award.
The one-year grant will provide Dr. Hen, professor of pharmacology in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience, with $100,000 to advance his research on stimulation of brain cell grown to produce antidepressant effects in both rodent models and human subjects.
He is one of 16 outstanding scientists receiving NARSAD’s 2009 Distinguished Investigator Award. This highly competitive grant program is designed for investigators of brain and psychiatric disorders who have established themselves as leaders in their fields.
Dr. Hen will test the hypothesis that stimulation of cell growth in the brain’s hippocampus produces antidepressant effects in both rodent models of depression and in human subjects. Dr. Hen proceeds from the hypothesis that antidepressants stimulate neurogenesis in the human hippocampus and that this effect contributes to the antidepressant response. Specifically, he hopes to prove that patients who respond to an antidepressant treatment will display increased hippocampal neurogenesis while those who do not respond behaviorally will display no increase in neurogenesis.
Preliminary results based on novel imaging methods indicate that cerebral blood volume (CBV) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) may provide biomarkers for hippocampal neurogenesis both in mice and in men. He proposes to further validate these biomarkers in rodents by demonstrating that manipulations that reduce neurogenesis result in a decrease in CBV and in a specific peak in the MRS spectra, and, conversely, that manipulations that increase neurogenesis result in an increase in CBV and MRS.
He will also analyze changes in CBV and MRS spectra in patients treated with antidepressants, expecting that both biomarkers will increase only in patients who display a response to antidepressants. The project represents a significant paradigm shift in that it aims at translating basic findings regarding adult hippocampal neurogenesis from rodents to humans.
“Dr. Hen’s work has the potential to be applied by various investigators as a bold new set of techniques that may have relevance for several forms of severe mental illness including depression as well as schizophrenia,” commented Jack Barchas, M.D., chairman of the department of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and chair of the NARSAD Scientific Council committee that selected the winning proposals. The council is comprised of 110 leaders in psychiatric and neuroscience research who are charged with annually reviewing the proposals NARSAD receives and recommending grant projects for funding.
NARSAD’s 2009 Distinguished Investigator Award recipients are involved in a wide variety of vital research projects, ranging from the genetics of mental illness to innovative brain imaging studies. Their work will bring new scientific insight to such conditions as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and childhood psychiatric and developmental disorders, as well as other disorders affecting adults and children.
This year’s class of Distinguished Investigators represents a balanced portfolio of outstanding proposals, covering everything from basic science to clinical applications that could be directly relevant to challenges faced in the field of psychiatry today,” said Herbert Pardes, M.D., president of the Scientific Council, who is also president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “What also makes this group of grants so essential to the advancement of mental health research is the breadth of experience that each scientist brings with them into each project. The caliber of their professionalism, their creative instinct and superb track records point to an exciting time in research that will hopefully lead to remarkable new discoveries.”
The Distinguished Investigator Award was created to support highly significant research by established scientists—full professors or their equivalent—who are on the cusp of a breakthrough, or who are poised to test an innovative idea that has the potential to make a significant advance in a given area of research.