Lasting Impact

The Foundation of Hope’s research grants don’t just fund great science at the University of Chapel Hill’s Department of Psychiatry. They also propel that important work into the national spotlight, earning millions of dollars from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other organizations. Since 1984, the Foundation has awarded over $9.4 million in research grants; those funds have, in turn, leveraged an additional $254 million in external research funding.

We are so proud of the work our researchers do and are excited to follow the progress of their tremendous efforts. Here, we highlight some of our most successful funded projects, many of which are still growing and earning attention:

1,415% GROWTH

gPACT – a rapid, large and inexpensive study of Postpartum Depression
December 2015

$99,000 seeded → $1.5 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health; Sage Therapeutics; Australian, Canadian and Danish institutions

Research Summary: To learn more about the biological basis of postpartum mood disorders by conducting a large genome-wide association study, Dr. Meltzer-Brody and her colleagues developed their app through the use of the open-source Apple ResearchKit, used by researchers around the world to help maximize sample size and minimize costs.

68,581% GROWTH

Genetic Consortium for Anorexia Nervosa
March 2010

$40,768 seeded → $29.11 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: Klarman Family Foundation

Research Summary: Dr. Bulik spearheaded a worldwide database of DNA samples of individuals with anorexia nervosa, giving researchers unprecedented quantities of genetic data they can use to study this dangerous eating disorder.

Results and Next Steps: The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative is the largest and most rigorous study of the genetic variations that contribute to eating disorders ever conducted. Over 8,000 samples have been collected from four countries and are currently being genotyped.

13,968% GROWTH

Neural Correlates of Reward in Autism
March 2009

$39,947 seeded → $5.62 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Dichter studied reward processing connections in patients with autism spectrum disorder and compared his results to that of a set of control subjects.

Results and Next Steps: Using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resource imaging (MRI), the next phase of the study will evaluate the brain network and dopamine reactions in individuals with autism spectrum disorder during reward processing.

11,650% GROWTH

Speaking the Language of the Brain: Adaptive Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation to Enhance Neuronal Communication for the Treatment of Mental Illness | March 2012

$40,000 seeded → $4.7 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Frohlich focused on brain networks in animals to understand how different parts of the brain coordinate a variety of activities, and the effects of noninvasive, weak stimulation on those networks.

Results and Next Steps: The incredible initial study findings resulted in a highly selective BRAINS award. One study has expanded to a pilot program testing weak electrical stimulation (similar to that of a 9-volt battery) in humans as a potential treatment for mental illnesses. The other study mechanistically categorizes the effects of transcranial alternating current stimulation on the brain networks using computational models.

1,746% GROWTH

The Gut Microbiome and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD): A Pilot Study to Examine the Microbiome in Relation to Perinatal Changes
May 2015

$39,912 seeded → $737,000 LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Kimmel investigated the changes in the gut microbiota of women across the perinatal period (pregnancy and the postpartum) in relation to the development of depression and anxiety.

Results and Next Steps: The Career Development award is a testament to Dr. Kimmel’s research acumen and the continued contributions she will make to the study of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It widens the participation for the study of women with postpartum depression and provides protected research time.

3,900% GROWTH

Evaluating Oxytocin in Opioid Withdrawal: A Translational Study
June 2019

$50,000 seeded → $2 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute on Drug Abuse

Research Summary: This study investigated the ability of oxytocin, a hormone critical for social behavior and bonding, to relieve physical symptoms of opioid use withdrawal, sleep disruptions, and other emotional behaviors.

Results and Next Steps: Using oxytocin as a treatment for mental illness symptoms is novel, but Dr. McElligott’s findings were promising. Her new grant seeks to uncover how opioid withdrawal affects the areas of the brain involved in alertness, arousal, and readiness for action, which in turn can alter behaviors relating to substance abuse such as negative emotions, poor sleep, and anxiety.

24,900% GROWTH

Mapping the Development of Joint Attention Neural Circuitry
March 2010

$39,999 seeded → $10 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Research Summary: Dr. Piven looked at joint attention cues (recognition of facial cues and focusing on the same item as others) in children with autism and discovered some intriguing differences.

Results and Next Steps: Dr. Piven is continuing his neurodevelopmental disorders research through an Autism Center of Excellence, focusing on using MRI detection to study infants and identify those at high risk for autism early in the child’s development.

12,650% GROWTH

Identifying Key Metabolites in the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis During Infancy
May 2012

$40,000 seeded → $6.87 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Santelli created a study to examine the microbiota of infants to determine whether correlations exist between bacterial colonization and human brain development.

Results and Next Steps: The first study to test microbial composition relative to anxious behavior, this exciting pilot clinical trial is a significant first step in developing novel interventions to promote a healthy microbiome and reduce risk for psychiatric illness.

2,651% GROWTH

Gonadal Steroids and Neural Function in an Experimental Model of Postpartum Depression
May 2012

$39,984 seeded → $1.4 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of hormones on mood and brain function in women at high risk for postpartum depression by administering hormones that mimic pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Results and Next Steps: In women at high risk for postpartum depression, hormones triggered symptoms of depression and anxiety and altered brain activity in circuits important for regulating mood. This research represents the first step in understanding how hormones impact the brain to trigger depression in women. In the future, this line of work will allow us to develop new interventions to prevent and treat reproductive-related mood disorders, including postpartum depression.

4,700% GROWTH

Defining, Mining, and Reversing Neurocircuit Adaptations in Addiction

$100,000 seeded → $4.8 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Research Summary: Addiction alters the signaling and function of many neurons in the brain, but strategies to normalize these maladaptive patterns of activity are lacking. In this project we will develop a novel model of addiction. Establishing the precise neural underpinnings of compulsive drug use is a first critical step in designing novel therapeutic interventions for addiction and related neuropsychiatric illnesses.

Results and Next Steps: We published three papers in top journals for the field that will overall make a major impact. The gain is that we now have a better idea on how specific cell types in frontal cortex encode information related to cues that predict rewards. Now that we know that these neurons should be prioritized for targeted manipulation, future work will investigate how select ensembles of neurons can be selectively targeted modulation via brain stimulation approaches or by pharmacological intervention.

90,102% GROWTH

Fetal Brain Development Assessed In-Utero with Ultrasound: Implications for Subsequent Neurodevelopmental Abnormalities & Risk of Neuropsychiatric Illness

$29,600 seeded → $26.7 MILLION LEVERAGED GROWTH

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Research Summary: The pilot grant from the Foundation of Hope allowed Dr. Gilmore to begin his pioneering work developing neuroimaging methods to study very early childhood brain development. Dr. Gilmore ultimately established the UNC Early Brain Development study, a longitudinal study of brain development in over 1000 children, including at children at risk for schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, from birth through age 10 years.

Results and Next Steps: This innovative study has received multiple NIH grants, has generated many publications, and has defined normal brain development in early childhood for the first time. This work is ongoing and seeks to identify early markers of risk for psychiatric illness, so that interventions to reduce the ultimate risk of psychiatric illness can targeted to very early childhood, when brain systems are being established.