Date:  Oct. 17, 2011




William Bunney and Ellen Frank Receive Institute of Medicine's

2011 Sarnat Prize in Mental Health for Their Research on Mood Disorders


WASHINGTON — The Institute of Medicine today awarded the 2011 Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat International Prize in Mental Health to two researchers -- William E. Bunney, Distinguished Professor, department of psychiatry and human behavior, School of Medicine, University of California, Irvine; and Ellen Frank, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and professor of psychology, department of psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh -- for their complementary achievements in enhancing treatment and understanding of mood disorders.  The Sarnat Prize, consisting of a medal and $20,000, recognizes Bunney's seminal research, which has elucidated several of the key biological abnormalities in depression and schizophrenia, and Frank's development of revolutionary approaches to treating mood disorders.  The prize was presented at IOM's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. 


"Our understanding of depression and other mood disorders and our ability to help people overcome these debilitating and potentially fatal illnesses owe much to the work of Ellen Frank and William Bunney," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg.  "Their research and clinical studies have not only directly contributed remarkable new knowledge to the field, but also spurred an abundance of findings by other researchers inspired by their work." 


Bunney is considered by many to be one of the pioneers of a biological approach to understanding mood disorders. His early research helped establish lithium's effectiveness as a treatment for bipolar disorder, and his efforts led to official approval of the drug for the disorder.  He also authored a seminal paper on the neurotransmitter norepinephrine's pivotal role in depression.  This was one of two major papers that stimulated hundreds of subsequent investigations exploring the biological mechanisms of major depressive disorder and potential therapies.  Bunney's research has also elucidated the rapid response of sleep deprivation therapy as well as the possible role of circadian rhythm abnormalities in mood disorders.  He and his colleagues helped establish gold standard criteria for the collection and analysis of brain tissue samples, and their findings have provided evidence for abnormal neurocircuitries in schizophrenia.


Bunney's efforts have also directly improved the quality of care available to people with substance abuse and mental disorders.  As director of the Division of Narcotic Addiction and Drug Abuse at the National Institute for Mental Health from 1971 to 1973, he expanded the number of drug abuse treatment centers from 23 to 140 throughout the nation.


Frank's conceptualization and testing of novel psychotherapeutic approaches to mood disorders has led to far-reaching improvements in knowledge about and treatment of depression and has changed the nature of clinical practice in the United States and throughout the developed world.  Her work has demonstrated the psychosocial components of mood disorders and their effects on circadian rhythms and other biological processes that contribute to such disorders.  She developed interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which blends interpersonal psychotherapy with behavioral intervention and is effective in teaching patients how to order their lives and stabilize their social routines to avoid new episodes of depression or mania.  In response to other professionals' interest in receiving training in IPSRT, Frank established a training institute to disseminate this intervention both nationally and abroad.


In addition, Frank's clinical trial investigating how to keep patients from experiencing recurrent depression questioned the conventional practice of lowering patients' drug dosage after their depression subsided.  Now, maintaining full-dose pharmacotherapy for patients with recurrent depression has become standard practice throughout the developed world.


Since 1992 the Institute of Medicine has presented the Sarnat Prize to individuals, groups, or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding achievement in improving mental health.  The prize recognizes — without regard for professional discipline or nationality — achievements in basic science, clinical application, and public policy that lead to progress in the understanding, etiology, prevention, treatment, or cure of mental disorders, or to the promotion of mental health.  As defined by the nominating criteria, the field of mental health encompasses neuroscience, psychology, social work, nursing, psychiatry, and advocacy among other disciplines.


The award is supported by an endowment created by Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat of Los Angeles.  Rhoda Sarnat is a licensed clinical social worker, and Bernard Sarnat is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and researcher.  The Sarnats' concern about the destructive effects of mental illness inspired them to establish the award.  Nominations for potential recipients are solicited every year from IOM members, mental health professionals, and others.  This year's selection committee was chaired by David J. Kupfer, professor of psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh.  Additional information on the Sarnat Prize can be found at 


Established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to policymakers, health professionals, the private sector, and the public.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.



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