From the President
Promise of Research for Our Field
Psychiatric News
Volume 46 Number 12 page 7-7

It is with great pleasure, gratitude, humility, and enthusiasm that I assume the presidency of APA. I do so with some apprehension as well, since the agenda of APA is weighty, but a bit of anticipatory anxiety may not be such a bad thing. There's a lot to be done, and we all need to stay on our toes! Dr. Carol Bernstein did an outstanding job during her presidential year (see Bernstein Sees Field Evolving to Meet Changing Needs), and she has been a helpful guide getting me prepped for the job. This year's annual meeting in Honolulu was top notch in every way, and the warm and welcoming Hawaiian style should be a model for us all.

Within days of returning from Honolulu, several of us from APA were fortunate to attend a remarkable three-day forum in Boston titled "One Mind for Research: Imagining the Next Decade of Neuroscience Research and Development." The brainchild of Patrick Kennedy and co-chair of the project Garen Staglin, "One Mind for Research" represents an ambitious agenda to engage leaders in basic and clinical neuroscience research to develop "A 10-Year Plan for Neuroscience: From Molecules to Brain Health." Dr. Steve Hyman, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, serves as the chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, joined by a stellar roster of scientists.

As described in the May 6 issue of Psychiatric News, featuring an interview by Dr. Jeff Borenstein with Kennedy and Staglin for the public television show "Healthy Minds," the conference roughly coincided with the 50-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy's landmark speech at Rice University in 1962 announcing a plan to put a man on the moon. This new project has been referred to as a "moon shot into inner space," or a "mission to the mind." Patrick Kennedy, speaking to a reporter prior to the forum, said, "If you have diabetes and have a chemical imbalance so you need more insulin, you don't get any questions about it. But if you need a neurotransmitter—more serotonin, or dopamine—then people look at that as something askew, as if the brain isn't part of the body. I mean, we're in modern times, and people are still treating this illness, mental illness, as if it's back in the Dark Ages."

Kennedy has acknowledged his own problems with substance use and mood dysregulation, which adds personal authenticity to his advocacy for parity—a major recent achievement made possible by the unyielding collective voice of a team that included APA, the American Psychiatric Foundation, and many other organizations; the personal stories of individuals who have psychiatric disorders; and the unflagging efforts of Patrick Kennedy and his late father, Ted Kennedy.

A quick look at the research showcased at the Boston forum reveals dazzling progress in areas such as genetics, "connectomics," perception, learning and memory, brain plasticity, traumatic brain injury, and emotion and motivation. I'll (unfairly) single out a few research frontiers as examples of the rich menu presented. It has been known for some time that there are critical neurodevelopmental periods during which programmed biological potential such as vision will not develop if visual perception is artificially prevented. But it is now being understood that brain plasticity may not disappear later in life but, instead, be suppressed by "molecular brakes." Techniques are being developed to remove, at the molecular level, these suppressors and to reopen critical windows and reactivate, or re-set, juvenile critical-period brain plasticity. A second example is the burgeoning field of optogenetics, involving promising ways to aim light at tiny, targeted disease neurons, with the possible potential to regulate aspects of mood and behavior. And a final example is the astonishing technology to use highly sensitive "brain computers" to receive signals from the motor cortex and allow patients immobilized from illness or injury to move artificial limbs or to communicate (for example, by e-mail) using a sophisticated combination of technology and "brainpower." I urge all who are interested to visit the Web site <www.1mind4research.org> and read "A 10-Year Plan for Neuroscience." You won't regret it.

Why do I choose this particular focus, among many critical areas to choose from, for my first presidential column? One reason is timing—I just returned from the conference, and I'm excited about it and proud that APA is a partner organization helping sponsor this effort. But it immediately fits within one of my priorities for APA—that research and education are our best blueprint for a strong future. That strong future includes new treatments for our patients, which emerge from our growing understanding of the complex organ called the brain. I believe that this type of strategic plan is the best way to eradicate, for good, the stigma that has haunted psychiatric patients and the field of psychiatry for far too long. 7_1.inline-graphic-1.gif

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