UI neuroscientists receive $375,000 to study role of cerebellum in schizophrenia

A team of University of Iowa neuroscientists has received new funding for a collaborative effort to identify new treatment strategies for schizophrenia. The Nellie Ball Trust has awarded $375,000 for the five-year project, “Cerebellum in Schizophrenia.”

Collaborators on the project are Krystal Parker, PhD, (left) assistant profesor of psychiatry,  Aislinn Williams, MD, PhD, (center) assistant professor of psychiatry, and Marie Gaine, PhD, (right) who will join the UI College of Pharmacy as an assistant professor this summer.

Parker, Williams, Gaine

Sudden and severe breaks with reality are characteristic features of psychotic episodes in patients with schizophrenia, which often lead to cognitive deficits. Despite the significance and prevalence of schizophrenia, current diagnostic and therapeutic strategies are inadequate. This is due in part to major research focus on the frontal cortex as the location of this brain activity.

More recently, work by Parker, Williams, Gaine and others, has shown a significant role for the cerebellum in the pathophysiology of psychosis and cognitive dysfunction. They have begun to explore the effectiveness of transcranial stimulation as a novel therapeutic strategy. This is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain.

Through this project, the team seeks to precisely define the mechanisms underlying the efficacy of cerebellar stimulation in schizophrenia. This will accelerate the discovery and development of new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.

“Our team brings expertise in cutting-edge genetics, circuit level mechanistic studies, and neuromodulation-based therapy development,” Parker said. “This new project allows us to combine existing research programs into a sum greater than the individual parts. Our collaborative effort will allow us to compare transgenic animal models with patients with schizophrenia to study how genetic variation impacts neuronal development, neural circuit function, and behavior.”

In addition to their ongoing research, the team plans to hold an annual community engagement night to bring together researchers, patients and community advocates for patient-centered presentations.

The Nellie Ball Trust Research Fund was established in 1977 when Nellie Ball bequeathed a substantial portion of her estate to fund research in three areas: paranoia, schizophrenia, and legal issues affecting individuals with mental disabilities. MidWestOne Bank administers the fund.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020