Psychiatry professor wins prestigious international prize

July 26, 2005

Elliot S. Gershon, MD, Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, has been awarded the Anna-Monika Prize, awarded once every two years by the Anna-Monika Foundation, based in Berlin, Germany, for his research on the role of genetics in bipolar disorder. The privately funded Foundation, established in 1964, promotes experimental research on the causes of depression.

Gershon will travel to Berlin on November 23, 2005, to receive the 25,000-Euro prize (approximately $30,000) and to lecture on his research.

In 2003, Gershon's team, including colleagues Eiji Hattori, PhD, Chunyu Liu, PhD, Judith A. Badner, MD, PhD, and Susan Christian, PhD, published a landmark paper on the genetics of bipolar disorder, tracing increased susceptibility to this disease to two overlapping genes found on the long arm of chromosome 13. The study was the first to implicate this gene complex, and the second to tie any gene to the development of bipolar disorder, which affects 2 million American adults. Since this report, there have been two published replications.

"The discovery of susceptibility genes for psychiatric disorders has been one of the most intractable problems in human genetics," said Gershon. "In the past few years, we seem to have reached a watershed for psychiatric gene discovery. After years of false starts and unfulfilled promises, we have begun to make real progress."

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes profound shifts in a person's mood, with spurts of high energy and elation alternating with longer periods of fatigue and deep sadness. It affects about one percent of adults, usually beginning in late adolescence. The disorder is caused by multiple genes, each contributing a small part. The bipolar gene on chromosome 13 has a "weak effect," said Gershon, increasing susceptibility to the disease by about 25 percent.

Gershon, routinely named in the publication "The Best Doctors in America" for care of patients with mood disorders, earned his BA and MD from Harvard. He came to the University of Chicago as chairman of the department of psychiatry in 1998 from the National Institute of Mental Health, where he was chief of the Clinical Neurogenetics Branch. He stepped down as chairman last year.

A member of the editorial boards of several psychiatric journals, and past president of the American Psychopathological Association, Gershon has edited four books and written more than 350 articles on the neurobiology, genetics, and treatment of mental disorders.

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