New Frontiers Fund

BIBS/NPNI New Frontiers Awards – Round 5

BIBS Announces Recipients of New Frontiers Awards
April 2016 

The Brown Institute for Brain Science and the Norman Prince Neurosciences Institute have awarded New Frontiers Awards to three interdisciplinary research teams to help launch new, collaborative research projects related to diseases and disorders of the nervous system.  These three projects focus on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, stroke and the long-term effects of early life stress on brain development and mental health

This is the fifth round of awards through this program since 2013.  All projects involve collaborations between campus-based and hospital-based faculty members.  The goal is to build research teams focused on brain health that include basic and clinical researchers.  The awards provide $40,000 for one year and teams are able to apply for a second year of support if they show exceptional progress.  The expectation is that successful projects will develop into enduring, externally funded research programs.

Funding for New Frontiers Awards comes from BIBS and NPNI, with contributions from the home departments of the co-principal investigators. 

The three awards approved in this round include:

1. Goal Directed Behavior and Uncertainty in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Co-Principal Investigators:

Christina Boisseau, PhD
Assistant Professor (Research)
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Michael Frank, PhD
Professor
Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences

Project Summary:
This project investigates uncertainty and the interaction between goal-directed behavior and habitual behavior in patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).  It brings together a hospital based team led by Dr. Boisseau that has broad experience in the psychopathology and treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder, and a group of campus investigators led by Dr. Frank that has a primary interest in computational psychiatry, reinforcement learning and the neural architecture of habitual and goal-directed behaviors.  Together they will begin to tease apart ways that habitual and goal-directed behaviors differ in OCD patients compared to normal individuals and set the stage for future studies incorporating EEG and functional imaging studies to develop neural metrics that underlie OCD and can be used to track the efficacy of different therapies.  This is the beginning of one of the few efforts worldwide to bridge the gap between psychiatry and computational neuroscience.

 

2. Tissue Engineered Platform for Stroke Investigation – 3D Neuronal Microtissues

Co-Principal Investigators:

Karen Furie, MD
Samuel I. Kennison, MD, and Bertha S. Kennison Professor of Clinical Neuroscience and Chair
Department of Neurology

Diane Hoffman-Kim, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Molecular Pharmacology Physiology and Biotechnology

Project Summary:
This program will develop novel 3D neuronal culture systems that can be adapted as experimental models of stroke.  It will combine the clinical expertise of Dr. Furie, a highly accomplished stroke neurologist, with the experimental expertise of Dr. Hoffman-Kim, who has developed techniques for making 3D neuronal microtissues from mouse cortical neurons, or from neurons derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells.  These microtissues display many of the features of the in vivo nervous system and will be subjected to various states of oxygen and glucose deprivation in culture to identify the conditions under which they mimic stroke in patients.  They will then be used to evaluate the protective abilities of drugs that are candidates for mitigating the long term effects of stroke.  These will be the initial steps in creating an effective, high throughput model system for testing stroke therapeutics.

 

3. Molecular Mechanisms of the Impact of Early Adversity on Neural Development: Focus on Mitochondria

Co-Principal Investigators:

Audrey Tyrka, MD, PhD
Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Kevin Bath, PhD
Assistant Professor
Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences

Co-Investigator:

Kathryn Ridout, MD, PhD
PGY-3 Psychiatry Resident, R25 Research Trainee
Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Project Summary:
Early life stress (ELS), including childhood abuse and neglect, is a major public health problem strongly linked to long-term neurobiological changes, poor mental health outcomes and tremendous costs over the lifespan.  Recent studies have suggested the number of copies of DNA in the mitochondria of blood is a marker of the long-term effects of ELS.  However similar mitochondrial changes have not been identified or studied in the brain where ELS has been shown to lead to a variety of cellular changes.  This project is a new collaboration between Dr. Tyrka who studies ELS in humans and was the first to show such changes in mitochondrial DNA copy number in blood, and Dr. Bath who has developed a rodent model of ELS.  They will investigate the effects of early life stress on mitochondrial DNA copy number and DNA function in rodents.  This is a critical first step in exploring a novel hypothesis that ELS effects on mitochondria play a key role in the long-term neurobiological changes that accompany ELS in animals and humans.