3 receive Hogg Foundation grants to study mental health

Contact: Will Sansom, (210) 567-2579
Merrell Foote, merrell.foote@austin.utexas.edu, (512) 471-9142

AUSTIN (June 17, 2011) — Three assistant professors at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio each received a grant of $17,500 from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health to study different aspects of mental health.

Proposals submitted by M. Danet Lapiz-Bluhm, Ph.D., in the School of Nursing and Daniel Lodge, Ph.D., and Jason O’Connor, Ph.D., in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences were selected from a statewide pool.

Dr. Lapiz-Bluhm, from the Department of Family and Community Health Systems, hopes to learn more about the cause and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Estimates show that up to 20 percent of military service members returning from Afghanistan or Iraq will experience PTSD or depression. She will study the relationship between these conditions and the nervous system by analyzing specific enzyme levels in the saliva of people with PTSD symptoms.

“PTSD is a debilitating, poorly understood anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to trauma and is associated with physical illness and mortality and high health care costs,” Dr. Lapiz-Bluhm said. “The large military and disaster refugee population in Texas may increase the state’s vulnerability to this disorder, highlighting the need for research in this region.”

Dr. Lodge, from the Department of Pharmacology, will investigate a new method for treating schizophrenia. All current antipsychotics target symptoms, not the cause, of the disease and have adverse side effects that lead to a majority of consumers discontinuing treatment. Dr. Lodge will conduct research to determine whether a neuronal transplantation procedure can reverse some of the deficits observed in a rodent model of schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia is a devastating psychiatric condition that affects up to 1 percent of the U.S. population. This grant will permit us to examine a novel and exciting line of research that could lead to a new generation of treatments for schizophrenia,” Dr. Lodge said.

Dr. O’Connor, also from the Department of Pharmacology, will research the link between brain inflammation and depression and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 90 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease also experience symptoms of depression, he said. This statistic is especially of interest in Texas, the state with the third-largest population of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“From early in my graduate training, I have been driven to understand why mental illness is dramatically higher in people with another seemingly unrelated infection or disease,” Dr. O’Connor said. “Mental health complications are a devastating and nearly universal reality for people with Alzheimer’s disease, yet the cause remains largely a mystery. This grant opens an exciting new door for our research into links between Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

“Dr. Lapiz-Bluhm, Dr. Lodge and Dr. O’Connor are tackling debilitating diseases – PTSD, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease – through novel approaches. Their research has the potential to be a game changer from a diagnostic and treatment perspective,’ said Octavio N. Martinez Jr., M.D., executive director of the Hogg Foundation.

The Hogg Foundation was created in 1940 by the children of former Texas Gov. James S. Hogg, and is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin. The foundation advances recovery and wellness in Texas by funding mental health services, policy analysis, research, and public education.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving federal funding. Research and other sponsored program activity totaled $228 million in fiscal year 2010. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced approximately 26,000 graduates. The $744 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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