Stimulus Package Benefits Research at McLean Hospital

Investigators Receive Grants from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

October 19, 2009

Adriana Bobinchock

Belmont, MA - Ten researchers from McLean Hospital, the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School (HMS), have received grants totaling $7.7 million from the National Institutes (NIH) of Health. The funding was made available under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus package.

"McLean has a robust psychiatric research program with many gifted investigators who rely on federal funding in order to conduct cutting-edge research," said Peter A. Paskevich, senior vice president for Research Administration. "These awards have come at an opportune time, allowing us to continue and, in some cases, resume our research."

According to the National Institutes of Health, such funding was sought by more than 20,000 applicants, with only a few hundred grants awarded.

Among the McLean recipients were Ole Isacson, MD, director of the Center for Neuroregeneration Research and the Neuroregeneration Laboratories, and Martin Teicher, MD, PhD, director of the Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program.

Isacson won a two-year Grand Opportunities (GO) grant totaling $3.5 million that will be shared with researchers at six other university and hospital laboratories. The grant will fund the investigation on how to create stem cells from the skin of patients with the genetic form of Parkinson's disease.

Teicher won a $1-million Challenge Grant to be dispersed over two years. He will use the money to continue his lab's research into finding a definitive test or biomarker for attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.

"Knowing how much competition we had nationwide for just a few grants, we were delighted and gratified to hear that we won this grant," said Teicher. "This award fits perfectly with the goals of the recovery act, since it will enable us to employ additional staff. It is vitally important for advancing the field."

Designed to support large-scale research projects with a high likelihood of enabling growth and investment in biomedical research and development, public health or health care delivery, GO Grants were available for research that needed short-term funding to lay the foundation for new fields of scientific inquiry.

Isacson plans to use his GO Grant to create at least five stem cell lines from individuals with genetic forms of Parkinson's disease. The cells will be compared to cells from healthy subjects, with the goal of identifying disease biomarkers that serve as targets for future drug treatments, said Isacson, a professor of Neuroscience at HMS.

"The reason this is so exciting is that in future treatments, these cells are likely to be the first line of experiments for the testing of new drugs for the disease," he said. "We're speeding up the drug discovery process."

Isacson's lab has already isolated stem cells from patients with the non-genetic form of Parkinson's. That research is seen as a precursor to this next step and provided support for the grant application funded.

Challenge Grants, like the one Teicher received, are for smaller projects, with awards of up to $1 million. The money is designed to support research on topics that address specific scientific and health research challenges in biomedical and behavioral research that would benefit from significant funds over a two-year period.

Teicher said his lab's research seeks to find definitive ways to diagnose ADHD, since the condition, like all psychiatric disorders, is currently diagnosed in a subjective way based on observation and self-report of symptoms.

"The grant will be used to validate potential biomarkers we have identified either through neuroimaging or the quantitative analysis of motor activity that appear to accurately distinguish between healthy children and those with ADHD or bipolar disorder." One way is through the sophisticated mathematical analysis of data obtained from the McLean Motion Attention Test (being commercialized as the Quotient ADHD System(tm)), to assess the degree of motion in head positioning and posture, which is under cerebellar control.

Another line of research involves using MRI to compare blood flow in the brain's cortical and striatal regions of children. Teicher will also use ambulatory activity monitors to quantify circadian rhythms and sleep, he said.

"This will be the culmination of about 25 years of research at McLean," said Teicher, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at HMS.

Other McLean recipients of grants resulting from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009:

Nicolas Bolo, PhD, will use magnetic resonance imaging to further understand the relationship between common metabolic disturbances associated with insulin resistance and age-associated cognitive decline. Insulin resistance, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes, has been proposed as a risk factor for development of Alzheimer's disease as well as mild cognitive impairment in the elderly.

Elena Chartoff, PhD, will use her grant to gain further understanding into neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to depressive-like states associated with withdrawal from chronic morphine. This is important because, the desire to alleviate withdrawal-induced depression is a major factor in relapse.

Rajeev Desai, PhD, will study the potential therapeutic value of nicotinic-based medication strategies for treating methamphetamine abuse and addiction. This work is expected to bring about to a greater understanding of the mechanisms responsible for methamphetamine addiction and may identify novel nicotinic targets to help combat methamphetamine addiction.

Steven Lowen, PhD, will use brain mapping to obtain a better understanding of the process of how tobacco-related cues, especially odors, result in relapse to smoking. This research could potentially lead to the development of more effective treatment strategies that can be individually tailored.

Uwe Rudolph, MD, will use genetics to determine how certain receptors in the brain may be associated with substance abuse, which could lead to more effective treatments of drug addiction. He also will conduct research into the development of new medications for the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder.

Kai Sonntag, MD, PhD, will conduct research to further understand the pathology of Parkinson's disease and new therapeutic targets. His work aims to understand a new molecular concept in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease, which could open new avenues for future diagnosis and therapy development.

Anjou Vasudevan, PhD, will study how angiogenesis and GABA neuron tangential migration are coordinated in the developing brain and will identify key mediators of this interaction. This work could have implications for the understanding and treatment of a variety of nervous system disorders like schizophrenia, autism and mental retardation.

Gordana Vitaliano, MD, will develop high-resolution stable MRI molecular nanoprobes that will provide a new tool for research into transporter abnormalities in addiction and drug abuse. This novel nanotechnology may have utility as an agent to enhance diagnosis and serve as a drug-delivery system to specifically target relevant brain systems.

McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean Hospital, visit

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