NIMH Research Track Expected to Be Among APA Annual Meeting Highlights

Marlene Busko

May 02, 2008

May 2, 2008 — The research track sessions developed by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — 18 symposia, 4 lectures, and 3 workshops — are expected to be among the many highlights of the upcoming APA annual meeting, in Washington, DC, from May 3 to May 8, 2008.

"Much of the research presented [in the NIMH research track] will have the potential to significantly affect patient care and improve clinical practice," David A. Baron, DO, from Temple University School of Medicine, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and scientific program committee chair of the APA meeting, said in a press release.

Something for Everyone

Virtually all recent advances in understanding potential factors contributing to the development and treatment of mental illness will be covered in this year's meeting, Dr. Baron told Medscape Psychiatry. "I'm obviously biased, but I think — with over 1000 scientific sessions — this is going to be an excellent meeting with something for everyone," he added.

The sessions on mental-health issues in returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, violence on college campuses, all of the NIMH sessions, the Oliver Sacks, MD, Menninger Memorial lecture on music and the brain, and the MINDGAMES Championship are just a few of the sessions that are expected to be of particular interest, Dr. Baron noted.

"A few personal favorites and talks I can't wait to hear include Dr. Thomas Insel's overview of the NIMH research track; the presentation by Drs. Eric Nestler and Schahram Akbarian on the epigenetics of depression; the presentation by Dr. John W. Newcomer and colleagues on mental disorders, metabolism, and cardiovascular risks; and Dr. Jay Giedd's paper on psychiatric risk and the developing brain," said Dr. Baron. "A can't-miss talk by Dr. Husseini Manji on 'Cellular Plasticity Cascades: A Window Into Mood Disorders' will leave the audience feeling proud about the work our field is doing. My apologies to the other outstanding lecturers — there are just too many to mention," he concluded.

NIMH-Funded Research

For the second time since 2005, the APA and the NIMH teamed up to produce a set of symposia and invited lectures that feature the most interesting findings of researchers funded by the NIMH, Mayada Akil, MD, senior advisor to the director, NIMH, in Bethesda, Maryland, and member of the NIMH research track planning committee, told Medscape Psychiatry.

"It is a way to highlight what the institute feels are very exciting research advances or clinical findings," she noted. The topics range from epigenetics to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How Environment Affects Psychiatric Conditions

Symposium 1, "Epigenetics Mechanisms of Depression and Antidepressant Action," is an NIMH research track session that is likely to be of great interest since it will provide further understanding of how "everything — from early maternal care to stressors over the lifespan, as well as treatment — can actually change genetic material in a permanent fashion," said Dr. Akil.

"This clearly has implications for our patients, because many of our patients have experienced difficulties growing up that may have affected their propensity for developing depression, for example," she observed.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Mood Disorders

Symposium 26, "Genomic Investigations of Mood Disorders," will offer insight into new technology that allows investigators to scan the entire genome of patients with depression and bipolar disorder and search for molecules or groups of molecules that seem to be involved in these disorders, said Dr. Akil, adding that researchers have unearthed some novel groups of molecules that are very exciting and could potentially lead to drug discovery.

"This is early, basic research . . . but it's been surprisingly productive," she said. "This kind of science can move quickly, so in 5 or 10 years we may have something coming out of this work. That’s the hope. So, I think this is a symposium worth attending."

Psychiatric Risk and the Developing Brain

Symposium 34, "Neurodevelopment and its Relevance to Psychiatric Disorders" is also sure to generate interest, said Dr. Akil. Dr. Giedd, from NIMH — who received a lot of media attention a few years ago for a longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study showing that the development of the prefrontal cortex is much more protracted than initially thought — will present a continuation of this work.

Joseph Piven, MD, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will provide insights about imaging studies in autism, and Philip Shaw, MD, from NIMH, will discuss brain development in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Insights into Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

In Symposium 35, "Research Advances: Brain Mechanisms of Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression," Ellen Leibenluft, MD, from NIMH, will present work that attempts to clarify the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in youth, which should be of great interest to practicing psychiatrists, said Dr. Akil. Hilary Blumberg, MD, from Yale School of Medicine, in New Haven, Connecticut, will talk about new advances in imaging and understanding brain circuitry in bipolar disorder.

Effects of Stress and Violence

Symposium 51, "Treating PTSD in a Violent World," will provide important useful insights for practitioners who treat this disorder, said Dr. Akil. "This type of research, services research, tends to focus on how to develop and put in place interventions that are effective in the real world, and this is extremely timely, with our soldiers coming back from Iraq," said Dr. Akil.


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