January 21, 2005

Meltzer lands highest award from the APA

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Herbert Meltzer, M.D.

Meltzer lands highest award from the APA

Herbert Y. Meltzer, M.D., has been named the co-recipient of the American Psychiatric Association's Award for Research in Psychiatry.

Meltzer, Bixler/May/Johnson Professor of Psychiatry, director of the Division of Psychopharmacology and professor of Pharmacology, will receive the award on May 23 at the organization's 2005 meeting in Atlanta.

The APA is a medical specialty society composed of more than 35,000 U.S. and international member physicians working together to ensure humane care and effective treatment for all persons with mental disorders, including mental retardation and substance-related disorders.

Because of the APA award, Meltzer has been invited to present an honorary lecture in October at the 2005 meeting of the Institute for Psychiatric Services in San Diego.

Meltzer is one of the world's leading authorities on the treatment of schizophrenia and the prevention of suicide in patients with the disease, which affects 1 percent of adults worldwide.

The award — the organization's oldest and most prestigious — is a lifetime achievement award and is being awarded to Meltzer for his clinical and basic research which led to the development of the generation of antipsychotic drugs which is now the main basis for treating patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

In addition, Meltzer's research helped shape the agenda for future developments in the treatment of schizophrenia by showing that it is made up of at least four independent dimensions, including psychosis, deficit symptoms, cognitive impairment and mood symptoms.

He showed that cognitive impairment can be treated with the class of drugs he pioneered, and together with his colleague, Junji Ichikawa, M.D., presented compelling evidence that this effect was due to their ability to enhance brain dopaminergic and cholinergic function.

Meltzer is one of the co-developers of the drug clozapine, considered to be the major advance in the treatment of schizophrenia in the past 50 years. Clozapine was the first effective treatment for patients with schizophrenia whose psychosis failed to respond to conventional treatments for schizophrenia.

Meltzer postulated that one of clozapine's major sites of action is the serotonin system. All previous anti-psychotic drugs primarily blocked the dopamine system.

Today, almost all new drugs for schizophrenia act through a combination of effects on serotonin and dopamine receptors. His laboratory is now exploring other strategies that involve other types of neurotransmitters.

Last year, one of Meltzer's publications, “Clozapine treatment for suicidality in schizophrenia — International Suicide Prevention Trial,” made the Thomson Institute for Scientific Information's list of “New Hot Papers in the field of Psychiatry/Psychology” as one of the most-cited publications in psychiatry/psychology during two months of 2004.

That study was the first to show that drug therapy alone could reduce the risk of suicide. It's also the basis for the initial approval by the FDA of a drug to treat a component of schizophrenia other than delusions and hallucinations.

The broader significance of this approval is that it opened the door for the eventual approval and development of drugs that target other dimensions of schizophrenia, especially cognitive dysfunction. This contributed to the current explosion of interest in developing new drugs to improve the cognitive dysfunction in schizophrenia.

Meltzer joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1996 and received the University's Earl Sutherland Award for Achievement in Research last year. “I'm very honored and very pleased to receive this award from the APA, and even more so, the Sutherland Award,” he said.

“Vanderbilt has been an exceptional institution for me to lead a research effort in schizophrenia and it gets better all the time because of the many outstanding people on the faculty with an interest in schizophrenia and because of the exceptional facilities that we have access to.”