David Braff MD, Distinguished Professor at UCSD's Department of Psychiatry has been named this year's Lieber Prize winner by the National Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (NBBRF) and the National Association for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). This Prize is given to an outstanding neuropsychiatric researcher who has enhanced our fundamental understanding of schizophrenia, a devastating no fault heritable clinical brain disorder affecting 1% of the world’s population. Schizophrenia causes psychosis, cognitive dysfunction and profound disability in many patients. It also affects the families of the patients, since the disability-often strikes early in young adult life. Past Lieber Prize winners include two Nobel Laureates and many other world leading distinguished neuroscientists. The Award will be presented at a scientific meeting, ceremony and dinner in New York at the NBBRF-NARSAD Annual Gala at Lincoln Center in late October.
Dr. Braff has pursued and extended our understanding of schizophrenia via a number of major research projects. The Consortium on the Genomics of Schizophrenia (COGS) is a 30 million-dollar 10 year NIMH-funded consortium on the neurocognitive, neurophysiological, neural circuit and dysfunctional genomic architecture of schizophrenia. Dr Braff has been Principal Scientist and Director of this 7-site study: COGS 1 examined clinical features, neurocognitive and neurophysiological, and other familial endophenotypes or biomarkers in schizophrenia patients and their families as well as healthy control subjects. The follow up COGS 2 is studying 2500 schizophrenia patients and case-control subjects. Genomic and related methods include extensive behavioral, candidate gene, genome wide association, sequencing, methylation and stem cell projects from COGS and UCSD grants. This has led to an increased understanding of both the neural network and underlying genomic network bases of schizophrenia and has enhanced our understanding of risk and vulnerability markers which may provide targets for very early intervention and even, in the longer run, prevention. This neurodevelopmental psychotic process starts early in life but usually manifests itself in late teenagers and young adults. In addition, because of the underlying complex neural and genomic networks that have been identified by this work and the studies of other scientific projects, we have hope of finding novel therapeutic targets for pharmacological and sensory training- cognitive behavioral therapies for this devastating disorder.
Dr. Braff also has conducted longstanding translational (TRANS) and genomic studies over 30 years of continuously funded projects supported by NIMH, NARSAD and the Brain and Behavior Foundation. This research, conducted with many essential colleagues, including TRANS Co-PIs Mark Geyer, Ph.D. and Neal Swerdlow, M.D. Ph.D., has led to cross-species translational advances in understanding the neurobiology of schizophrenia and created powerful tools for screening candidate antipsychotic compounds to treat schizophrenia. Braff has also Directed the VA VISN 22 Mental Illness Research Center Clinical Neuroscience and Genomics Project, which provides crucial infrastructure and intellectual support for this work.
In recent years, Dr. Braff, a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator, has consistently been ranked by "ISI" in the top half of the top percent of all cited neuropsychiatric researchers based on the frequency with which his 300 publications are cited. He has also been awarded the Warren Award from the International Congress of Schizophrenia, the Inspiration Pioneer Research Award from NAMI, the Dean Award from the American College of Psychiatrists and the Marmor Award from the American Psychiatric Association, all given to honor an outstanding neuropsychiatric researcher. Dr. Braff’s colleagues at UCSD have included crucial contributions and context from TRANS Co-PIs, Mark Geyer Ph.D. and Neal Swerdlow MD Ph.D., Department Vice Chair (Also Deputy Director of COGS) as well as more recent faculty appointees Gregory Light, Ph.D (UCSD COGS Director and San Diego VA VISN 22 MIRECC Director) and Tiffany Greenwood, Ph.D. (Genetics And Statistical Genetics Lead Scientist) and many others.
Dr. Igor Grant, Chair of the Department commented, "Professor David Braff has been at the forefront of research into the neurobiology of schizophrenia. Beginning with observations on neurophysiologic biomarkers related to aberrant attentional and other cognitive mechanisms in those afflicted with schizophrenia, his work has progressed to linking such biomarkers to genetic underpinnings of this serious disorder, which affects 1% of our population, and causes great disruptions both for the person affected, and their families and loved ones. Professor Braff's innovative work has opened better understanding of the interplay of genetic and neurodevelopmental factors in the evolution of schizophrenia, as well as promise of specific diagnostic markers that may help with early identification of people vulnerable to this disorder, at a time when preventive strategies may be most useful. As such his work will inform both improved treatment and prevention. Dr. Braff has also been a generative mentor to younger scientists, a fine educator, and helped the Department establish a modern inpatient psychiatric unit to care for people with severe mental disorders. The Department is very proud that Professor Braff was recognized with the Lieber Prize, reserved for the very finest psychiatrist scientists.”