The Gary Drummond, Jr. Memorial Research Award was created in October 2008 from the generous memoriam support of the community. Dr. Gautam Bijur received the award to fund the pilot stage of his investigation into the treatment of schizophrenia with Omega-3 fatty acids.
It has been suggested that the neurological abnormality for schizophrenia may occur during development in-utero. Evidence for this concept comes from numerous studies showing that environmental factors such as prenatal malnutrition or infections, and perinatal complications result in higher incidence of schizophrenia. The notion that prenatal malnutrition contributes to schizophrenia is particularly interesting because it suggests that the lack of certain essential nutrients may contribute to the disease, or conversely, that supplementation of these nutrients to mothers prior to and during pregnancy may reduce the risk that their children will develop schizophrenia. Also, administration of nutrient supplements to high risk children may protect against the development of schizophrenia, or at least improve some of the symptoms of the disease.
One class of nutrient supplements that have garnered some attention by researchers is the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (FAs); especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). EPA is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and it has been proposed that its therapeutic efficacy in some types of brain trauma may be due to its ability to reduce neuroinflammation. DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain and is the primary component of neuronal membranes. Neuronal membrane integrity is essential for conductance of nerve impulses and ultimately the proper release and uptake of neurotransmitters. It is suggested, that DHA and EPA may bolster neuronal signaling and neuronal plasticity. Numerous studies have examined how DHA and EPA protect against brain injury and neuronal death, but no studies to date have actually looked at prenatal supplementation of FAs within the context of schizophrenia. The overarching goal of Dr. Bijur’s study is to explain how these two FAs, DHA-EPA, affect brain signaling. Low-cost nutritional supplements like DHA-EPA as preventative treatments for schizophrenia are increasingly getting scientific interest and funding because they have the potential to substantially reduce the cost burden of this chronic illness. However, almost nothing is known about how prenatal administration of DHA-EPA affects brain neuronal physiology and signaling. These studies will provide new preliminary data that can lead to a potential therapeutic application for DHA-EPA.
Dr. Bijur and the Department of Psychiatry would like to thank the members of the community who honored Mr. Gary Drummond, Jr. with your memorial gifts to the department.