Depression research wins alumna NARSAD Young Investigator AwardFeeling Blue

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

February 15, 2011
GSBS alumna Yan Jiang, MD, PhD

GSBS alumna Yan Jiang, MD, PhD, was awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Award for research she began at the Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute.

Photo by Maxwell Brown

Neuroscientist and UMass Medical School alumna Yan Jiang, MD, PhD, has been granted a Young Investigator Award by the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) for her research into basic processes occurring at the molecular level in the brain that may underlie depression. 

In 2009, Dr. Jiang completed her PhD studies in the Program in Neuroscience of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where she conducted her dissertation research under the mentorship of Schahram Akbarian, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Irving S. and Betty Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute at UMass Medical School. “I was selected for this award mainly based on my achievements and publications during my PhD study in Dr. Akbarian’s lab,” said Jiang.

Since its incorporation in 1981, NARSAD has grown to become among the most important private funder of research into psychiatric disorders, with every dollar donated going directly to research. Jiang is one of 214 Young Investigators selected for their innovation and potential to improve the lives of people living with mental illness via scientific breakthroughs.

Prior to pursuing a PhD, Jiang earned her MD in clinical medicine at Shanghai Medical University in China, and her master’s degree in neurobiology at Fudhan University, also in Shanghai. “What changed my mind to give up the clinical career and switch to basic science research was seeing so many patients suffering from chronic disorders for which all a doctor can do is ameliorate the symptoms rather than cure the disease,” she said. “Major depression is one such disease. I feel it is urgent to have a deep understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying mood disorders, because this is the only way to open a new avenue for treatment in the future.”

What drives Jiang’s NARSAD project is her goal to provide novel treatments that are faster and more effective for more patients with depression than the antidepressant drugs currently in use. Specifically, the research will test the antidepressant potential of enzymes that chemically modify histones, proteins that function as the backbone of chromosomal material.

The project continues the work Jiang, now a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Developmental Biology at Texas University Southwestern Medical School, began with Akbarian, whose laboratory studies human brain tissue to understand the molecular and genetic underpinnings of mental illnesses including schizophrenia, depression and autism. “The NARSAD award is well-deserved,” Akbarian said. “Dr. Jiang is an excellent scientist who doesn’t shy away from challenging projects.”

Related links:

The Irving S. and Betty Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute
The Program in Neuroscience