Three Researchers at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio Receive Hogg Foundation Grants to Study Mental Health
June 16, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas – 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 Dr. M. Danet Lapiz-Bluhm in the School of Nursing and by Dr. Daniel Lodge and Dr. Jason O’Connor in the Dept. of Pharmacology were selected from a pool of 48 applicants from 17 universities across Texas. The foundation awarded one-year grants totaling $226,770 to 13 tenure-track assistant professors exploring different aspects of mental health in Texas.
Lapiz-Bluhm 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,” said Lapiz-Bluhm. “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.”
Lodge will investigate a new method for treating schizophrenia. According to Lodge, 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. Lodge aims instead to specifically treat conditions in the brain that he believes to be the primary cause of schizophrenia.
“Schizophrenia is a devastating psychiatric condition that affects up to one 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,” Lodge said.
O’Connor will research the link between brain inflammation and depression and anxiety in people with Alzheimer’s disease. According to O’Connor, nearly 90 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease also experience symptoms of depression. 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,” said O’Connor. “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 Dr. Octavio N. Martinez, Jr., executive director of the Hogg Foundation.
The Hogg Foundation was created in 1940 by the children of former Texas Governor 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.