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Lieber Institute for Brain Development wins grand prize at National Collegiate Conference

Undergraduate student Mahima Sukumar in the Martinowich Lab helps further the understanding of how electroconvulsive therapy works to relieve depression

Lieber Institute for Brain Development

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IMAGE: Kristen Maynard, Ph.D., with undergraduate student Mahima Sukumar in front of poster showing results that help further the understanding of how electroconvulsive therapy works to relieve depression. view more

Credit: LIBD

BALTIMORE, MD (Feb. 4, 2015)--The National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC) sponsored by the Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association awarded its 2015 Grand Prize to Mahima Sukumar, an undergraduate student at The Johns Hopkins University, working in the lab of Keri Martinowich, Ph.D., at the Lieber Institute for Brain Development (LIBD). NCRC offers undergraduate students an opportunity to present innovative research in areas ranging from biology, physics and chemistry to mathematics, psychology, linguistics and the humanities. Awards of Excellence are given in individual subject areas, but only one presenter is selected for the Grand Prize.

"We are extremely proud of Mahima and appreciate this terrific acknowledgment of her dedication and contribution to our work at LIBD," says Daniel R. Weinberger, Director and CEO at LIBD. "We all work very hard to alleviate the suffering of those with various psychiatric illnesses, and understanding how treatments work in the brain is an essential element of our work. Mahima has helped move us forward."

Ms. Sukumar presented a summary of her work over the past 2.5 years with Drs. Keri Martinowich and Kristen Maynard on a project seeking to identify how electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)--a treatment in which electric current is passed through the brain under anesthesia--works to relieve the symptoms of treatment resistant major depression. This is important because ECT is the most effective form of treatment for patients who have not responded to other antidepressant therapies. The research team hypothesized that the ability of electroconvulsive seizures (ECS), an animal model of ECT, to increase neurogenesis, which is the birth of new brain cells, and to reorganize circuitry in the hippocampal region of the brain might contribute to its antidepressant effect.

Using sophisticated imaging and computational techniques, the team found that blocking neurogenesis in mice reduced the effectiveness of ECS in improving behavioral symptoms. Blocking neurogenesis also limited the capacity of ECS to improve a structural deficit associated with depression. Taken together, the work suggests that ECS can spur hippocampal neurogenesis, which in turn improves behavioral symptoms and brain structural changes found in major depression.

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About LIBD

The mission of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development is to translate the understanding of basic genetic and molecular mechanisms of schizophrenia and related developmental brain disorders into clinical advances that change the lives of affected individuals. LIBD is an independent, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization and a Maryland tax-exempt medical research institution affiliated with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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