Faculty Member Earns Prestigious Award for Schizophrenia Research
PHOENIX — Amelia Gallitano, MD, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, has been awarded a $1.9 million grant by the National Institutes of Health to study proteins associated with schizophrenia.
The study is designed to reveal how two different proteins relevant to schizophrenia may interact to mediate the effect of environmental factors on the risk for this severe mental illness.
“This research has the potential to become a vital component in our quest to understand the complexity of schizophrenia. Dr. Gallitano’s work may help identify early environmental interventions that could reduce the chances of developing schizophrenia, a debilitating psychiatric illness that afflicts more than 50 million adults worldwide,” said Stuart D. Flynn, MD, dean of the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix.
The study involves a gene that has been found to have reduced activity in the brains of schizophrenia patients. Dr. Gallitano’s prior work has defined the function of this gene in emotional behavior, memory, and the response to stress. She has now shown that loss of this gene disrupts the function of another gene believed to play a critical role in schizophrenia and in the action of the medications used to treat this illness. These genes are part of a domino effect influencing serotonin, a chemical “neurotransmitter” that plays a part in emotional states.
“We have found support for this biological cascade that is critical for normal brain function. Disruption of this pathway at any level may increase the risk for schizophrenia,” Dr. Gallitano said. “This grant will help us identify the precise mechanism by which the first gene regulates function of the second in this chain of events essential for mental health.”
Dr. Gallitano has been with the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix since it opened in 2007. In addition to conducting research she teaches neuroscience to first- and second-year UA College of Medicine – Phoenix students and advanced clinical neuroscience to psychiatry residents at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital. She also performs clinical service at the Phoenix VA Health System.
Dr. Gallitano has been studying schizophrenia and the gene in question for several years. As a psychiatrist she is hopeful this research will lead to help for patients affected by this debilitating disease and their families.
“The identification of these mechanisms will greatly enhance our understanding of how genes may act in influencing the risk for schizophrenia,” Dr. Gallitano said. “This better understanding increases the chances of developing new treatments for this devastating disorder.”
Media Contact: Al Bravo, Associate Director, Public Affairs
University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix
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