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Using basic science, clinical research to study depression, suicide

UIC Researcher of the Year Award

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Ghanshyam Pandey

Ghanshyam Pandey, professor of pharmacology and psychiatry, has combined basic and clinical research throughout his career. “It is difficult to think of anyone who has produced such a broad array of pioneering studies,” one colleague says.

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

The UIC Researcher of the Year Award, now in its third year, is given in four categories: social sciences and humanities, natural sciences and engineering, clinical sciences and basic life sciences. Selected by the Campus Research Board and the vice chancellor for research, each winner receives a $3,500 cash prize.

For Ghanshyam Pandey, his studies of the neurobiology of the brain have always been closely connected to his concern for the clinical issues facing patients and physicians.

Pandey’s research has direct impact on the understanding and treatment of mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and depression.

“It is difficult to think of anyone who has produced such a broad array of pioneering studies in the field of biological psychiatry that have had such an impact over such an extended period,” writes J. John Mann, the Paul Jansson professor of translational neuroscience in psychiatry and radiology at Columbia University, in supporting Pandey’s nomination for Researcher of the Year.

Pandey, professor of pharmacology and psychiatry, first came to Chicago to work at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute.

“From the beginning, I was doing clinical and translational as well as basic research,” he says.

In his earliest research, Pandey showed how the transport of lithium in the blood of people with bipolar disorder is altered, so that some patients respond better to treatment with that medication.

Pandey found that the receptors for the neurotransmitter norepinephrine were altered in individuals with depression.

He was one of the first researchers to note that the neurotransmitter serotonin is altered in patients who attempted suicide.

The worst consequence of mood disorders is suicide, says Pandey, who set out to learn more about the neurobiology of these individuals.

“I was also concerned that there might be a difference between the brains of patients we were studying who attempted suicide and individuals who completed a suicide,” he says.

This concern led him to study post-mortem brain tissue through collaboration with a colleague in Maryland, where the governor and medical examiner recognized the importance of this research and made the tissue available.

Using this resource, Pandey has expanded his research into what he calls some of the most tragic suicides, those of teens.

Probably the only researcher in the world studying the neurobiology of teen suicide, he is an active member of the American Society for Suicide Prevention. Last year he received the society’s 2010 Research Award.


Other Researchers of the Year

Simon Alford: How does the brain work? The questions continue

Brian Bauer: Into the wild, using new ways of studying Inca civilization

Donald Morrison: Sharing results helps other scientists further their work


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