Molofsky, Ramanathan named 2016 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant recipients

UCSF Department of Psychiatry faculty member Anna Molofsky, MD, PhD, and postdoctoral fellow Dhakshin Ramanathan, MD, PhD, have been awarded 2016 NARSAD Young Investigator Grants by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF) in recognition of their work as promising young scientists conducting innovative, cutting-edge neurobiological research. Both are alums of the UCSF Psychiatry Research Resident Training Program.

The two-year awards will provide them each with up to $70,000 for the purposes of extending their research fellowship training or fostering a career as an independent research faculty member. In addition, they will be eligible for consideration to present at the foundation's annual Scientific Symposium in New York. 

NARSAD Young Investigator Grants are designed to help researchers launch their careers in neuroscience and psychiatric research and gather pilot data to apply for larger federal and university grants on research relevant to the understanding, treatment, and prevention of serious brain and behavior disorders such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or child and adolescent mental illnesses. Since the program's founding in 1987, more 4,000 grants have been awarded totaling $244 million in funding, which in turn generation more than $2.4 billion in subsequent research funding.

This year, BBRF received more than 750 grant applications, of which 198 were awarded a total of $13.7 million in funding. Grant awardees were selected by the BBRF's world-renowned Scientific Council, which counts two Nobel Prize winners, four former directors of the National Institute of Mental Health, and nine UCSF Psychiatry faculty members among its ranks. The 2016 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant Selection Committee was co-chaired by the University of Rochester's Suzanne N. Haber, PhD, and UCSF Psychiatry's Judith M. Ford, PhD.

"NARSAD Young Investigator Grants enable early career scientists to garner pilot data for innovative ideas before they have ‘proof of concept’ for their work," said BBRF president and CEO Jeffrey Borenstein, MD. "After our initial funding, these scientists usually go on to receive additional funding from other sources at an average of 11 to 19 times their original NARSAD grant. Our grants offer the first critical backing of their work."

Funding to support basic science research efforts

Molofsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and principal investigator of the Molofsky Lab at UCSF, plans to use her grant to investigate how interactions between the immune system and nerve cells in the brain contribute to schizophrenia. Specifically, she will explore how unique populations of immune cells in the brain eat away at the connections between neurons in a process known as pruning, providing insight and potential new drug therapies for psychiatric diseases including schizophrenia and autism. She has received an NIH Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award and was awarded a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists in 2015.

Ramanathan, currently a postdoctoral fellow in the UCSF Laboratory of Plasticity & Neural Engineering, will investigate the specific neural circuits that underlie cognitive deficits in a rodent model of schizophrenia, using a new approach for simultaneous recordings across cortical, sub-cortical, and cerebellar brain regions. He will directly apply electrical stimulation to specific brain regions, at specific frequencies tailored to the neural deficits, seeking to learn the degree to which these interventions can normalize neural circuits and remediate cognitive deficits in schizophrenia. Ramanathan received the department's UCSF Psychiatry Trainee Research Award in 2015.

"NARSAD Young Investigator Grants have led to groundbreaking and important new research that has improved the lives of people living with mental illness, through enhanced treatments and therapies, and a better understanding of the causes of mental illness," said BBRF Scientific Council President Herbert Padres, MD. "These early career scientists are making great strides in basic research, new technologies, next generation therapies and early intervention techniques. This is the kind of out of the box research that will offer the best hope for change."

Other 2016 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant recipients from UCSF include Evan Feinberg, PhD, from the Department of Anatomy, Cheng Wang, MD, PhD at the Gladstone Institutes; and the Department of Pediatrics' Danielle Roubinov, PhD.

About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering caused by mental illness by awarding grants to scientists and researchers that will in turn lead to advances and breakthroughs in scientific research. Funded through private contributions; the foundation invests 100% of donor contributions for research directly into its NARSAD Grants. For more information, visit

About UCSF Psychiatry

The UCSF Department of Psychiatry and the Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute are among the nation's foremost resources in the fields of child, adolescent, adult, and geriatric mental health. Together they constitute one of the largest departments in the UCSF School of Medicine and the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, with a mission focused on research (basic, translational, clinical), teaching, patient care, and public service.

UCSF Psychiatry conducts its clinical, educational, and research efforts at a variety of locations in Northern California, including UCSF campuses at Parnassus Heights, Mission Bay, and Laurel Heights, the UCSF Medical Center at Mt. Zion, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, the San Francisco VA Health Care System, and UCSF Fresno.

About the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences

The UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, established by the extraordinary generosity of Joan and Sanford I. "Sandy" Weill, brings together world-class researchers with top-ranked physicians to solve some of the most complex challenges in the human brain.

The UCSF Weill Institute leverages UCSF’s unrivaled bench-to-bedside excellence in the neurosciences. It unites three UCSF departments—Neurology, Psychiatry, and Neurological Surgery—that are highly esteemed for both patient care and research, as well as the Neuroscience Graduate Program, a cross-disciplinary alliance of nearly 100 UCSF faculty members from 15 basic-science departments, as well as the UCSF Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, a multidisciplinary research center focused on finding effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurodegenerative disorders.

About UCSF

UC San Francisco (UCSF) is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences; and a preeminent biomedical research enterprise. It also includes UCSF Health, which comprises two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, and other partner and affiliated hospitals and healthcare providers throughout the Bay Area.