The University of Pittsburgh has received a $10 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to support a new Conte Center for the Neuroscience of Mental Disorders (CCNMD). The center will focus on developing new treatments for schizophrenia, a disease that affects over two million adults in the United States alone. The grant will enable Pitt researchers to gain a better understanding of the disease process and to identify pathophysiology-based molecular targets for novel therapeutic interventions for this devastating mental illness.

"The center provides a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the neurobiology of schizophrenia and includes specialists in molecular neurobiology, systems and computational neuroscience, brain imaging and clinical psychiatry. Our goal is to understand how schizophrenia affects brain function, to identify new treatments and to develop better ways to assess the effectiveness of those treatments," said David A. Lewis, M.D., director of the CCNMD and UPMC Endowed Professor of Translational Neuroscience, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh.

Schizophrenia is a complex and challenging mental illness with clinical features that include difficulty thinking logically, and inability to recognize and express emotions, to relate to others and to interpret reality. It is a chronic condition that can be difficult to manage with medication. Schizophrenia has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the leading causes of years of life lost to disability and premature mortality.

The center's research is based on the widely-replicated observation that expression of a gene that synthesizes the neurotransmitter GABA is reduced in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is an important neurotransmitter essential for core cognitive processes such as working memory. CCNMD investigators are working to understand how reduced GABA could lead to impairments in brain function that are typical of schizophrenia.

The CCNMD offers a highly interactive scientific environment linking investigators from the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Medicine and Arts and Sciences as well as the Pitt-Carnegie Mellon University Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Project and core leaders on the grant include Raymond Cho, M.D., Guillermo Gonzalez-Burgos, Ph.D., Gordon Frankle, M.D., Mary Phillips, M.D., Department of Psychaitry; Chester Mathis, Ph.D., Department of Radiology; Allan Sampson, Ph.D., Department of Statistics; and Bard Ermentrout, Ph.D., Department of Mathematics, all of the University of Pittsburgh; and Carl Olson, Ph.D., Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is one of the nation's leading medical schools, renowned for its curriculum that emphasizes both the science and humanity of medicine and its remarkable growth in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant support, which has more than doubled since 1998. For fiscal year 2006, the University ranked sixth out of more than 3,000 entities receiving NIH support with respect to the research grants awarded to its faculty. The majority of these grants were awarded to the faculty of the medical school. As one of the university's six Schools of the Health Sciences, the School of Medicine is the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Their combined mission is to train tomorrow's health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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