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Veterinary researcher studies schizophrenia

By Keryn B. Page

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A Mississippi State University veterinary researcher is enlisting the help of mice to unlock the mystery of a mental disorder that affects more than 2 million American adults.

Jeffrey Eells, an assistant professor with MSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, recently received a $55,000 grant from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression. Eells' study focuses on a strain of mice that have a gene mutation similar to that found in schizophrenic humans.

Schizophrenic humans do not respond normally to a prepulse inhibition test -- their startle response is not reduced when given a "warning" pulse.

"Because we can't really measure the symptoms of schizophrenia in mice, we have to use other methods that correlate the animals' response with a human response," Eells explained. "The mice I'm working with have an altered prepulse inhibition similar to what you would see in a schizophrenic human."

Eells will use microdialysis to measure the function of the dopamine system in mice with a gene mutation similar to that in schizophrenic humans and compare it to their normal littermates. The study will measure dopamine release in mice raised in isolation, under stress and given drugs that target specific parts of the dopamine system.

Eells' research began while he was working in a National Institutes of Health laboratory with a mutant mouse.
"I began to look at how this mutation might be involved in schizophrenia," Eells said. "It turned out that the percentage of this gene mutation in schizophrenic humans was very small, but it did implicate this gene as being involved in schizophrenia."

When Eells joined the CVM faculty just over a year ago, he brought his mice and the idea for his research project with him. As a biomedical researcher in the Department of Basic Sciences, Eells said he believes this research could provide new and improved methods of treating schizophrenia.

"Nobody really knows what causes schizophrenia -- it's likely that there are a number of different causes that can result in the symptoms of schizophrenia," Eells said. "This gene mutation may be one of a number of causes or predisposing factors that could signal schizophrenia. The hope is that it will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of the disorder and potentially to other avenues of treating schizophrenia."

CVM associate dean for research Jerald Ainsworth said Eells' ability to secure such a competitive grant so early in his research career speaks volumes about his capability as a researcher and is indicative of his research potential at the college. Particularly impressive is that Eells got the grant on his first application attempt, Ainsworth said.

"This is the first time I know of anyone at MSU who has been able to land a grant with the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression," Ainsworth said. "Jeff came with a very good background from the National Institutes of Health, plus he was able to bring a group of special mice with him, which enabled him to have not only a readily available source to use in his research, but also was impressive to the funding agency."

The Alliance is the largest donor-supported organization in the world devoted exclusively to funding scientific research on psychiatric disorders. Since the inception of its programs in 1987, the agency has awarded $157.3 million to fund 2,364 grants at 321 universities and medical research institutions in the United States and 22 other countries.

"The research NARSAD is supporting with these grants represents all phases of the leading edge of research on the human brain and mental disorders," said Dr. Herbert Pardes, president of the grant selection committee. "The studies we are funding will build upon recent breakthroughs in genetics, imaging technology and molecular biology of the brain."

Eells' grant is part of the Alliance's Young Investigator Award Program, which provides support for the most promising young scientists conducting neurobiological research.

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Released: July 29, 2004
Contact: Dr. Jeffrey Eells, (662) 325-1085

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