Research

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Tommy Fuss Center | Funded Research Projects

Next Generation Awards

Next Generation Awards are intended to advance the research productivity of outstanding scientists and laboratories to build research programs investigating developmental neuropsychiatric disease.  These grants support basic research, fund pilot programs, establish proof-of-concept, and generate preliminary data to enable investigators to leap to the next stage of research.

Recipients

Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich

Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, MD

Very Early Onset Psychosis: Forging a Path to Translational Therapies

The overarching goals of this research program are to identify genetic mutations implicated in very early onset psychosis (VEOP), discover their biological effects, and translate this knowledge into transformative treatments. A key element of the program is to create a registry of patients with genetic mutations implicated in VEOP and their unaffected family members and a collaborative network of institutions seeing these patients. Information in the registry is linked with biological samples from these patients and their family members. The Tommy Fuss Center Discovery Core uses this information to elucidate the biology of the mutations to guide the development of potential treatments to prevent the emergence of psychosis and promote healthy development in at-risk children. This work will position the collaborative network to test these treatments in clinical trials.

Todd AnthonyTodd E. Anthony, PhD

Optical and Molecular Dissection of Lateral Septal Stress Circuitry

Individuals vary in their resilience to the long-lasting consequences of stressful experiences, but the neural circuits and genes responsible for such differences are poorly understood. Inhibiting the function of a brain region called the lateral septum (LS) can suppress behavioral and physiological effects of stress, whereas increasing LS activity can exacerbate these effects. However, it is unknown how stressful stimuli modulate natural neural activity and gene expression patterns in LS neurons to tune the severity of stress-induced behavioral states, or how variability in these patterns may give rise to individual differences in the properties of such states. Using genetic, optical, and molecular approaches, this research program will define the relationship of LS neural activity dynamics and gene expression profiles to susceptibility to stress-induced anxiety in mice. Future studies will determine how key stress regulated genes influence LS activity and behavior, and test novel strategies for preventing or reversing stress-induced anxious states.

Innovation Awards

Innovation Awards are given to support pilot studies and research projects that advance the mission of the Tommy Fuss Center by exploring novel and promising domains, specifically to open up innovative avenues of discovery that can seed more mature research.  Four Innovation Awards have been granted:

Recipients

Michelle Bosquet EnlowMichelle Bosquet Enlow, PhD

Developmental Pathways to Anxiety in the First Five Years of Life (Project Study)

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses of childhood and often have lifelong negative consequences. Longitudinal studies starting in infancy are needed that examine how biological, psychological, and environmental factors in early life combine to influence the development and maintenance of anxiety. Such research can contribute to the creation of novel measures that can identify children at risk for anxiety difficulties as well as inform the development of innovative therapies to prevent anxiety disorders. The goal of this study is to investigate the combined effects of neural, behavioral, genetic, physiological, and environmental risk factors in early life on the development of child anxiety. We expect that the findings will (a) uncover non-invasive biomarkers that can identify children at heightened risk for developing anxiety and (b) inform the development of transformative innovative therapies to treat anxious children and to prevent the development of anxiety in at- risk children prior to the emergence of symptoms.

Kimberly O'BrienKimberly O’Brien, PhD

Development of a mHealth Booster for a Brief Alcohol Intervention for Suicidal Adolescents (Pilot Study)

Alcohol use puts adolescents with suicide-related thoughts and behaviors at high risk for attempted suicide and suicide death. Greater attention to the assessment and initial treatment of alcohol use in adolescent inpatient psychiatric settings, and having a post-discharge follow-up plan to reinforce the treatment they received in the hospital and ensure the safety of the suicidal adolescent at home, are essential. The goal of this project is to build upon an innovative brief alcohol intervention for adolescents hospitalized for a suicide plan or attempt who drink alcohol by developing a mHealth booster to be delivered to adolescents and parents when the adolescent returns home from the hospital. The design of the mHealth booster will be refined by obtaining feedback on the proposed content, interface, and functionality via in-depth interviews with 8 adolescents and 8 parents who have completed the in-person component of the intervention in an ongoing pilot trial.

Annapurna PoduriAnnapurna Poduri, MD, MPH

Genetics of Schizophrenia & Epilepsy:Targeting the Overlap with Zebrafish Models (Pilot Study)

Epilepsy, a condition defined by recurrent, unprovoked seizures, affects 1 in 26 people, many of them children. Schizophrenia, marked by disordered thought processes, affects 1 in 100 people, often beginning in adolescence or early adulthood. Individuals with epilepsy are at higher risk of developing schizophrenia, while individuals with schizophrenia are at higher risk for epilepsy. Both conditions are influenced by genetics, including some genes associated with both conditions. Thus, we have undertaken an innovative approach to study these two conditions together. We will do so in genetic models of zebrafish, an efficient vertebrate model system that has been used to study neuropsychiatric disease. We will study models of ‘epilepsy’ genes for schizophrenia-related features and models of ‘schizophrenia’ genes for epilepsy-related  features.  Genes whose models show overlapping features will be prioritized for future in-depth biological studies as well as drug screens to identify compounds that might be used to treat both epilepsy and schizophrenia.

Mustafa SahinMustafa Sahin, MD, PhD

Characterization of neuropsychiatric disease phenotypes of patient iPS cell derived dopaminergic neurons in vitro (Pilot Study)

The goal of this research is to establish a novel cell culture model to characterize disease phenotypes of dopaminergic neurons derived from patients with neuropsychiatric disorders. This cell culture model will be used to screen novel biochemical compounds to find suitable candidates for future drug development and testing. This study is an important stepping-stone for the future development of more specific and efficient drugs for psychiatric disorders and will potentially decrease the risk for harmful side effects.
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