Breakthroughs

In the past 25 years, NARSAD has funded research leading to:

- Identification of candidate genes in all major brain and behavior disorders
- Early intervention techniques to reduce the risk of severe mental illnesses
- Deep brain stimulation for treating medication-resistant depression
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation for treating depression and auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia
- Creation of mice models to understand the causes and improve treatments of Schizophrenia
- Brain scanning for depression to determine if antidepressants are working
- A particularly effective type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of various disorders
- Early identification methods for autism
- Improved medications for a variety of major brain and behavior disorders

 

Interactive Timeline of Key NARSAD-Funded Breakthrough Research

-Click each breakthrough to learn more-

 

Details of Key NARSAD-Funded Breakthrough Research

[EARLY YEARS: 1980s-1990s]

Aaron Beck develops cognitive behavioral therapy, a departure from classic psychotherapy that over two decades will prove effective in easing depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, drug abuse, and suicidal thinking.

Studies by Herbert Meltzer and others lead to FDA approval in 1989 of the second-generation antipsychotic drug clozapine, which is especially helpful in treatment-resistant schizophrenia.

David Brent helps establish mood disorders, substance abuse, impulsive aggression, parental suicidal behavior, and access to guns as risk factors for adolescent suicide.

Pioneering research by David Shaffer confirms that most teen suicides occur in the context of psychiatric illness. He creates the Columbia Teen Screen, used nationwide as a diagnostic and preventive tool.

Myrna Weissman begins a groundbreaking three-generation study of depression, addressing the basic question: Who is at elevated risk for depression?

Elliot Gershon and Wade Berrettini are among those whose research suggests there is at least one shared gene responsible for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

John Rubenstein identifies a gene called DLX-2 essential to forebrain function, and shows that DLX-2 is a transcription factor, a gene that turns other genes on and off.

Jane Costello and colleagues initiate the Great Smoky Mountain Study in 1993 with 1,420 representative youngsters aged 9-13. Over two decades it helps reveal which young people tend to get mental illness, who gets treated, who needs treatment and doesn't get it, how useful treatments are and promising directions for future research and treatment.

Eric Kandel and Paul Greengard are awarded the Nobel Prize (along with Arvid Carlsson) for discoveries on signaling in the nervous system and providing a molecular window on the brain. This work eventually impacts treatments for Parkinson's, schizophrenia and depression and holds promise for the improvement of memory in dementia.

Helen Mayberg pioneers PET and MRI functional imaging studies in neuropsychiatric disorders; develops influential model of depression.

Herbert Meltzer's studies of clozapine's relative effect on serotonin and dopamine neurons, culminating in "serotonin-dopamine hypothesis," leads over a decade to the development of other "atypical" antipsychotics, including Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Geodon, and Abilify, drugs now used by millions of people.

A large multicenter clinical trial called MTA (Multimodal Treatment for ADHD) directed by John March and others indicates effectiveness of long-acting stimulant drugs for children with ADHD and shows those who receive drugs and therapy usually fare best.

 

[NARSAD Research Exerts Major Influence: 2000-2009]

2000
Mark George reports on development of a new kind of brain stimulation called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Steven Siegel develops an implantable device that can deliver antipsychotic medication continuously over five months, as a way of coping with noncompliance.

2001
Dolores Malaspina discovers that having an older father increases a child's odds of developing schizophrenia.

Yuval Neria is asked by Columbia University to set up a trauma center to study the effects of World Trade Center terrorist attacks on survivors.

2003
Yuval Neria and Myrna Weissman report significant numbers of 9/11 trauma victims continue to have PTSD and co-existing mental disorders long after the event.

Helen Mayberg uses Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) to target "area 25," a place in the brain she earlier found to be an important locus of depression pathology.

Claudio Soares and colleagues take part in Maternal Adversity, Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment study (MAVAN) that aims to determine whether maternal exposure to depression and/or adversity impacts neonatal health and shapes brain development.

On the strength of research by Herbert Meltzer, FDA approves clozapine specifically to prevent suicide in schizophrenia patients, likely saving thousands of lives.

2004
In multicenter Treatment of Adolescent Depression Study (TADS) John March and others clarify suicide risk to teens posed by SSRI antidepressants. TADS shows risk can be greatly reduced if antidepressant is combined with cognitive behavioral therapy.

Ronald Duman and three years later Rene Hen discover that antidepressant treatments can stimulate the birth of new nerve cells in brain's hippocampal region.

Elissa Epel finds that caring for ill relatives, or other similarly stressful events like divorce, speed up the aging process of the body's cells at the genetic level - the first study to link psychological stress to biological aging.

2005
Jeffrey Lieberman, principal investigator of the 57-site Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness (CATIE), and colleagues address data gap by comparing relative effectiveness of second-generation (atypical) antipsychotic drugs with older agents.

Karl Deisseroth invents optogenetics, an experimental method that involves the use of light to make neurons fire, one at a time. Opens new vistas on mechanisms behind depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Francis Lee begins developing mice that carry specific genes involved in neuropsychiatric illness in people; uses these to study why different individuals respond differently to the same antidepressant drugs.

Deanna Barch finds that people with schizophrenia can be assisted in remembering things just as well as normal controls, provided they are given proper cues and memory aids. This suggests cognitive rehabilitation programs can be effective.

The FDA approves vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy as a treatment for treatment-resistant depression; the novel method was pioneered by Mark George and others in 1998.

2006
Aaron Beck has success in using cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Daniel Weinberger and colleagues explain how a variant form of the neuregulin-1 gene contributes to dysfunction in schizophrenia.

Hugh Gurling and colleagues show that a gene known as Slynar, found on chromosome 12, is present in 10% of people with bipolar disorder.

Myrna Weissman shows that when mothers are successfully treated for depression, their depressed children show a reduction in symptoms.

Eric Kandel heads a team that develops a mouse strain with cognitive and behavioral impairments mimicking those in people with schizophrenia.

Richard Davidson and colleagues find the amygdala, the brain's fear center, becomes abnormally small in the most severely socially impaired males with autism spectrum disorders.

Carlos Zarate, Jr., finds that people with treatment-resistant depression experience relief in as little as two hours with a single intravenous dose of ketamine, a medication typically used in higher doses as an anesthetic.

2007

Jane Costello marshals data in Great Smoky Mountain Study to show that low birth weight and high levels of estrogen and testosterone independently predict depression in teenage girls.

Husseini K. Manji and Carlos Zarate, Jr., demonstrate that tamoxifen, the breast cancer drug, can dramatically reduce symptoms of the manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Grigori Enikolopov and colleagues develop the first biomarker enabling neural stem and progenitor cells (NPCs) to be tracked, non-invasively, in the brains of living human subjects; possible basis of powerful diagnostics.

Dennis Charney initiates randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial to study the effectiveness of intranasal use of ketamine for treatment-resistant depression.

Karl Deisseroth uses voltage-sensitive dye imaging to reveal what's going on in the brain of a depressed rat, discovering the hippocampal region called the dentate gyrus is smaller in depressed rats than healthy ones, and that it grows in size when the depressed animals are treated with Prozac.

Wade Berrettini identifies two genetic regions that appear to increase a person's susceptibility to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which indicates these disorders may share genetic origins in some cases

Akira Sawa genetically engineers a mouse that models anatomical and behavioral defects of schizophrenia.

John Roder separately develops two strains of mice with different mutations in DISC1, a schizophrenia candidate gene.

2008
David Lewis and colleagues develop drug with promise in addressing working memory impairments seen in schizophrenia.

Mary-Claire King, Judith Rapoport and colleagues identify multiple, individually rare gene mutations in people with schizophrenia. Many affect early brain development and may help explain how some cases of schizophrenia are caused.

Hagit Cohen demonstrates that high doses of corticosterone in animal models of PTSD prevent the negative consequences of stress exposure, including increased "startle response" and "behavioral freezing."

A version of TMS called rTMS, developed by NARSAD investigator Mark George, is granted FDA approval for use in certain patients with severe, treatment-resistant depression. It's a non-invasive alternative to electroconvulsive therapy, with fewer side effects.

Arturas Petronis publishes pioneering study analyzing epigenetic changes across the human genome in the context of psychiatric illness (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).

2009
Mary-Claire King, Judith Rapoport and others discover that copy-number variations - extra copies of a gene-rich region on chromosome 16 - increase risk for schizophrenia by at least eightfold. Deletion of the same region is known to confer high risk of autism.

David Brent, Martin Keller and colleagues issue preliminary results of the Treatment of SSRI-Resistant Depression in Adolescents (TORDIA) study, identifying possible predictors of suicidal events.

Myrna Weissman and colleagues discover in one of the largest-ever imaging studies of depression that a thinning of the brain's right hemisphere appears to be linked to higher depression risk.

Tyrone Cannon and others offer evidence from a study of more than 2 million families in Sweden of common genetic determinants that link schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Rachel Marsh and colleagues report on results of brain scans of women with the eating disorder bulimia nervosa, documenting differences in areas responsible for regulating behavior.

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