Paul Thompson, PhD, professor of ophthalmology, neurology, psychiatry and the behavioral sciences, radiology and engineering at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and associate director of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, has received a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) for his work on sex disparities in mental health. The award, bestowed in December, funds leading researchers in neurobiological and behavioral research with $100,000 for one year of study.

“By funding creative research that explores new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, the Distinguished Investigator Grants support and encourage established scientists to advance our understanding about mental illness, and brain and behavior disorders,” said BBRF President and CEO Jeffrey Borenstein, MD. “These grants serve as seed capital for new approaches that might otherwise go unfunded.”

Thompson’s study, the ENIGMA Sex Differences Initiative (ENIGMA-SDI) builds on the success of the global Enhancing Neuro Imaging Genetics through Meta-Analysis (ENIGMA) consortium, which pools data from more than 340 institutions across 37 countries. The network enables researchers to increase sample sizes for neuroimaging and genetics studies, therefore obtaining adequate power to study subtle differences in brain structure and genetic risk.

ENIGMA-SDI will examine schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The study aims to determine whether sex differences in the prevalence, age of onset and clinical presentation of each disorder can be tied to differences in brain metrics, such as the severity of structural abnormalities. Thompson and his team will analyze imaging, genomic and clinical data.

“We are studying mental illnesses in over 30 countries, and we are starting to see factors that predict recovery. We are just beginning to understand how a person’s response to treatment depends on their sex, environment, culture, their genetic make-up and their support network,” said Thompson, who is director of the Imaging Genetics Center at USC’s Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute. “NARSAD’s support gives us the power to understand what helps patients recover and what treatments may work best for patients across the world. We really deeply appreciate this support.”

The BBRF is the top non-governmental funder of mental health research grants in the United States.

— Zara Abrams