Dr. Gustavo Turecki, Scientific Director of the Douglas Research Centre and founding Director of the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, is one of seven recipients of the 2020 Outstanding Achievement Prizes in Mental Health as awarded by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF). “The Outstanding Achievement Prizes acknowledge and celebrate the power and importance of neuroscience and psychiatric research in transforming the lives of people living with mental illness,” said the BBRF press release, issued on October 21.
The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation is the world’s largest private funder of mental health research grants.
“Paving the way for people to live, full, happy and productive lives”
A Canada Research Chair in Major Depressive Disorder and Suicide, Dr. Turecki is one of two recipients of the Colvin Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Mood Disorders Research. The other recipient is Martin Alda of Dalhousie University. Established in 1993, the Colvin Prize carries an award of $25,000. “It is an amazing recognition, and I am very honoured to have been awarded this prize,” said Dr. Turecki via email.
“These exceptional scientists are on the cutting edge of finding new treatments, cures, and methods of prevention for mental illness,” said Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President & CEO of the BBRF. “We celebrate their progress in brain and behaviour research, which is paving the way for more people to live full, happy and productive lives.”
“The 2020 Outstanding Achievement Prizewinners are making extraordinary contributions to advancing psychiatric research and eliminating the stigma of mental illness,” said Dr. Herbert Pardes, President of the BBRF’s Scientific Council and Executive Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “Their work is providing insights in our understanding of the brain and how to treat and potentially cure psychiatric disorders.”
Studying depression and suicide at molecular level
Dr. Turecki has devoted his career to improving the understanding of major depression and suicide.
“My research is focused on understanding how traumatic experience shapes the brain at the molecular level and result in increased risk of depression and suicide,” he said via email. “Depression is a very prevalent disorder and an intriguing question is why some individuals who are depressed become suicidal whereas others do not.”
Specifically, Dr. Turecki investigates the role of epigenetic risk factors, namely how life experience affects gene function and increases risk for suicidal behaviour. In June 2014, he and his team published a study showing that the levels of a tiny molecule, miR-1202, may provide a marker for depression and help detect individuals who are likely to respond to antidepressant treatment.
Dr. Turecki is also the Head of the Depressive Disorders Program that offers specialized services to children and adults suffering from major depression and/or severe forms of other depressive disorders. The program provides cutting-edge therapies to depressed patients and develops knowledge on major depression risk factors and treatment by integrating research projects into clinical practice.