July 16, 2004

Three VUMC scientists gain grants for psychiatric, neurodevelopmental research

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The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) has awarded grants for neurodevelopmental and psychiatric research to three scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

P. Jeffrey Conn, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and director of the Program in Translational Neuropharmacology, has received a one-year, $100,000 Distinguished Investigator Award to pursue studies that could lead to new treatments for schizophrenia.

Zhu Li, Ph.D., and Monsheel Sodhi, Ph.D., who are research assistant professors of Psychiatry, received Young Investigator Awards, which provide up to $30,000 per year for one or two years.

According to its Web site, NARSAD is the world’s largest donor-supported organization devoted exclusively to supporting scientific research on brain and behavior disorders. Since 1987, the organization has awarded $157.3 million in research grants to 1,883 scientists throughout the world, including several at Vanderbilt.

Conn came to Vanderbilt last year from Merck & Co. Inc., where he headed the neuroscience program at the pharmaceutical company’s West Point, Penn., site.

His research project focuses on a subtype of the metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR), which may serve as a target for the development of novel antipsychotic drugs. In particular, Conn is exploring small molecules that may increase the ability of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, to activate the receptor.

Li, who works with Herbert Meltzer, M.D., director of the division of Pharmacology, previously received a Young Investigator Award in 2002.

She is studying the action of antipsychotic drugs on muscarinic receptors, which are activated by the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Defects in these receptors or acetylcholine-containing nerves may play a role in the development of schizophrenia.

Sodhi, a former visiting research fellow from Oxford University in England who received a two-year Young Investigator Award, is studying the role of a specific serotonin receptor in disorders of neurodevelopment, including schizophrenia and depression, and its involvement in suicide.

Sodhi works with Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, and with Meltzer directs the newly formed genetics program in the division of Psychopharmacology.