Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC psychiatrist Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD, is among a select group of researchers who have been chosen by the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to receive a prestigious New Innovator Award.
NIH director Elias A. Zerhouni, MD, announced today that 41 researchers from across the country - many of them in the early stages of their careers, including Dr. Szigethy - will receive five-year grants totaling more than $105 million. Dr. Szigethy is one of only 29 recipients of the NIH Director's New Innovator Award (selected from more than 2,100 applicants), and there are 12 recipients of the Pioneer Award.
Pioneer Awards support scientists at any career stage, while New Innovator Awards are reserved for new investigators who have not received an NIH regular research or similar grant. This is the first group of New Innovator Awards and the fourth group of Pioneer Awards. Both programs are part of an NIH Roadmap for Medical Research initiative that tests new approaches to supporting novel research.
Dr. Szigethy is the medical director of the Coping Clinic, part of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Center at Children's Hospital. She also is an assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. By working with young patients who have been diagnosed with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, Dr. Szigethy is investigating the interactions among the brain, gut and immune system in how adolescents cope with chronic disease. She will work with Robert Noll, PhD, chief of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Children's, and Ronald Dahl, MD, the Staunton Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh to coordinate this multi-faceted research effort.
"Novel ideas and new investigators are essential ingredients for scientific progress, and the creative scientists we recognize with NIH Director's Pioneer Awards and NIH Director's New Innovator Awards are well-positioned to make significant - and potentially transformative - discoveries in a variety of areas," Dr. Zerhouni said in announcing the award recipients.
Dr. Szigethy's NIH award will allow her to use functional magnetic resonance imaging to study regions of the brain responsible for emotional and cognitive processing in patients with IBD with and without depression. She also will study the relationship between depressive symptoms and brain, immune and gastrointestinal functioning, as well as the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy in treating patients with IBD who are depressed. The integration of behavioral health into comprehensive medical care represents a paradigm shift within medicine in treating children with chronic physical illness.
"The early identification and treatment of depression in children and adolescents with chronic physical illness such as IBD is an understudied area. Given the significant risk of emotional and physical harm to physically ill adolescents who are depressed, the development and implementation of effective preventive interventions is crucial," she said. "The early data from our research examining the effects of a cognitive behavioral therapy shows promising effects in improving depressive symptoms in adolescents with IBD."
It is estimated that as many as one million Americans, including 100,000 under the age of 18, have IBD - with that number evenly split between Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. For more information about Dr. Szigethy or the IBD Center at Children's, please visit www.chp.edu.