Christoph Anacker and Pietro Mazzara are 2 of the recipients of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Awards

September 21, 2020

PRESS RELEASE: Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Awards Over $10.3 Million In Young Investigator Grants to 150 Mental Health Scientists

NEW YORK (September 21, 2020)—The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation today announced the awarding of its Young Investigator Grants, valued at more than $10.3 million, to 150 of the world’s most promising young scientists- including Christoph Anacker and Pietro Mazzara, from the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and members of the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative. The grants, awarded annually, support the work of early career investigators with innovative ideas for groundbreaking neurobiological research seeking to identify causes, improve treatments and develop prevention strategies for psychiatric disorders.

Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $418 million in research grants to more than 6,000 scientists globally.

This year’s Young Investigators are studying some of the most challenging conditions including addiction, anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia, as well as research on suicide prevention.

The recipients were selected by the Foundation’s Scientific Council, comprised of 181 leading experts across disciplines in brain and behavior research, including one Nobel Prizewinner; three former directors of the National Institute of Mental Health; four recipients of the National Medal of Science; 11 members of the National Academy of Sciences; 16 National Institute of Health Chiefs & Directors; 41 chairs of psychiatry and neuroscience departments at leading medical institutions; and 54 members of the National Academy of Medicine.

"BBRF Young Investigators represent a new generation of scientists who will pioneer breakthroughs in mental health research," says Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., President and CEO, of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. "With these grants, outstanding researchers are able to pursue bold new ideas to answer important questions or help identify potentially game-changing targets for treatment. The awards function as seed funding for new directions that would otherwise be highly unlikely."

Herbert Pardes, M.D., President of the Foundation’s Scientific Council and Executive Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, says, "BBRF Young Investigator Grants have led to groundbreaking and important new research that has improved the lives of people living with mental illness. These scientists are making great strides in basic research, new technologies, next-generation therapies and early intervention techniques. This kind of out-of-the box research offers the best hope for change."

This year, the Foundation’s Scientific Council reviewed 1,012 applications to select the 150 Young Investigators. The breakdown of funding is as follows:

  • About 80 percent of the projects funded are basic research, the wellspring of innovation in brain research to understand what happens in the brain to cause mental illness.
  • About 20 percent of the projects funded specifically aim to develop next-generation therapies, diagnostic tools/early interventions, and/or the development of new technologies to advance or create new ways of studying or understanding the brain.

For more detailed information about the Young Investigator Grant recipients, click here.

Christoph Anacker, Ph.D. is exploring the role of the ventral dentate gyrus as a mediator of the effects of early-life stress, which is a major risk factor for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Ventral dentate gyrus hyperactivity precedes the development of behavioral abnormalities in adulthood, making it a potentially promising target for early intervention. Dr. Anacker will use hM4Di, a DREADD (Designer Receptor Exclusively Activated by Designer Drug), to functionally inhibit the ventral dentate gyrus in adolescent mice that experienced early life stress, to see if inhibition can protect against development of behavioral impairments later in life. He will also investigate the role of serotonin 1A receptors in the dentate gyrus as potential targets to inhibit hippocampal hyperactivity.

Pietro Giuseppe Mazzara, Ph.D. (Kristin Baldwin lab) notes that generating diverse neuronal subtypes, particularly those with features related to key aspects of psychiatric disease, largely relies on trial and error. Dr. Mazzara aims to develop an unbiased screen for reprogramming methods to identify a diverse and perhaps comprehensive set of combinations of neuronal transcription factors (TFs) to generate neurons. Results will directly link transcription factor and microRNA reprogramming factors to specific aspects of neuronal identity, enabling discovery of a variety of new methods to produce different human-induced neuronal subtypes. Efforts will follow to generate neurons involved in schizophrenia, particularly GABA-B receptor-expressing neurons found in the HPA axis.


The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation awards research grants to develop improved treatments, cures, and methods of prevention for mental illness. These illnesses include addiction, ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, and schizophrenia, as well as research on suicide prevention. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $418 million to fund more than 6,000 leading scientists around the world, which has led to over $4 billion in additional funding. 100% of every dollar donated for research is invested in research grants. BBRF operating expenses are covered by separate foundation grants. BBRF is the producer of the Emmy® nominated public television series Healthy Minds with Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, which aims to remove the stigma of mental illness and demonstrate that with help, there is hope.