Boston University School of Medicine Researchers Receive NIMH Brain Awards

in News Releases, School of Medicine, Science & Technology
February 7th, 2011

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 | gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) – Two Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) faculty members, Pietro Cottone, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmacology and psychiatry and Michael Silverstein, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics, were each awarded the prestigious National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientisits (BRAINS) grant with ten other investigators from around the country. The BRAINS award called for innovative and groundbreaking research projects from early stage investigators to explore the complex mechanisms underlying mental disorders or novel treatments and prevention strategies.

The BRAINS initiative was created to support the research programs and career development of outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers and who plan to make a long term commitment to research most relevant to NIMH. This award seeks to assist these individuals in launching an innovative clinical, translational, or basic research program that holds the potential to profoundly transform the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of mental disorders.

Cottone, whose research explores the neural mechanisms underlying addictive disorders summarizes his proposal. ”We propose that a history of dieting and relapse represents a vicious circle between stress and compulsive eating. In other words, the next attempt to avoid junk food is going to be more painful and stressful than the previous one, and the likelihood of relapse will progressively increase. We propose that during dieting the endocannabinoids (chemicals of the brains that protect from stress and promote the consumption of our favorite foods) are released to try to fight this stressful condition but on the other side they also increase our craving for junk food. Therefore blockade of the endocannabinoid action on one hand reduces compulsive eating, but on the other hand it induces anxiety and depression. This proposal will clarify the mechanisms linking eating disorders and obesity to anxiety and mood disorders.”

Silverstein is studying maternal depression and is exploring detection and treatment options in the community setting, using for example, programs like Head Start and Early Intervention. He is experimenting with motivational interviewing and cognitive behavior therapy. “Our project is a community-based maternal depression prevention trial that enrolls young mothers at risk for developing major depressive disorder. The project takes place in Head Start and aims to enroll 230 women over five years.”

“While these awards fund specific projects, they are truly an investment in specific people,” said NIMH director Thomas R. Insel, MD. Inspired by the success of the NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards and New Innovator Awards, both of which are designed to provide support for innovative research that has the potential for unusually high impact on health science. “The hope is that BRAINS awards will give early stage investigators enough flexibility to take risks on tough problems that are central to neuroscience and to the understanding of mental illness, such as the nature and development of neural circuits and the genetic factors and environmental influences that both shape and disrupt them,” he adds.

The BRAINS program awards up to $1.625 million over five years for early career scientists focusing on a gap area identified in the Institute’s Strategic Plan.

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