PITTSBURGH – The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a $10 million, five-year grant to establish the Silvio O. Conte Center for Translational Mental Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. The Center focuses on cortical cells, brain circuits, neuronal connectivity and cognition in schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is a major public health problem and devastating illness, affecting 0.5 to 1 percent of the world’s population. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking and mood disturbances. Current treatments for schizophrenia have limited effectiveness, and all medications currently used to treat schizophrenia and related disorders were discovered by serendipity rather than goal-oriented, rigorous science.
“There is an urgent need for a new approach to treatment development to address these problems,” said David A. Lewis, M.D, UPMC Professor in Translational Neuroscience, chair of Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry, and director of the Conte Center. “This innovative Center will initiate drug development methodically by first identifying molecular targets that could influence the course of the illness, a strategy that has been successful in other areas of medicine.”
The center’s research activities will test the hypothesis that molecular disturbances in certain triangular-shaped “pyramidal” cells, which are found in the outer layers of the brain’s cerebrum known as the neocortex, alter cortical circuitry within and between brain regions, impair functional connectivity and neural signaling, and disturb the processes of working memory and attention in individuals with schizophrenia.
Five research projects and clinical and diagnostic cores will take convergent approaches to examine these molecular changes with the aim of making laboratory findings readily relevant to clinical treatment of schizophrenia.
The center’s work is directed at identifying pathophysiology-based molecular targets for new treatments and at developing biomarkers that can be used to monitor their impact.
Center investigators include scientists from Pitt’s School of Medicine and the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences as well as Carnegie Mellon University, who represent a broad array of expertise spanning molecular systems and cognitive, computational and clinical neuroscience.