McLean Researcher Receives Prestigious National Award

July 25, 2002

Public Affairs

Belmont, MA - Francine M. Benes, MD, PhD, director of the Program in Structural and Molecular Neuroscience at McLean Hospital, has been selected by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to receive a MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Award. The highly coveted award extends NIMH funding for Benes' research on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for an additional five years, bringing the total amount of the 10-year grant to $4 million.

Francine M. Benes, MD, PhD

Francine M. Benes, MD, PhD

Each year, the director of NIMH selects a small number of researchers nationwide to receive extended funding. The objective of the MERIT program is to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior and who are likely to continue to perform in an outstanding manner.

Benes, the only female full professor of psychiatry (neuroscience) at Harvard Medical School, has spent her 23-year career at McLean investigating how "miswired" circuits in the brain can lead to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She has made many significant discoveries, including identifying the type of neurons in the brain that might be defective in people with schizophrenia and affective disorders. Another major focus of Benes’ pioneering work has been focused on the onset of schizophrenia during late adolescence. She and her colleagues are investigating how the ingrowth of dopamine fibers and other connections in the limbic lobe act as a possible trigger for the start of schizophrenia in those who carry the susceptibility for this disorder. In 1998, she was asked to present her work at the Symposium on Schizophrenia held at the Nobel Symposium at the Karolinska University in Stockholm, Sweden.

"The MERIT award affords our most prized investigators sustained, uninterrupted support so that they can concentrate on advancing knowledge about the brain and mental illness," said Steve Foote, PhD, director, NIMH Division of Neuroscience and Basic Behavioral Science.

A native of Queens, New York, Benes received both her PhD and her medical degree from Yale University.

She is director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center at McLean Hospital and was recently honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Shervert H. Frazier Research Institute at McLean.

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