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Release: March 20, 2001

UI's Andreasen to give public talk on mental illness, schizophrenia April 4

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- While many people's lives are affected by mental illness -- personally or through family and other relationships -- understanding the brain's role in such conditions can be challenging.

Nancy Andreasen, M.D., Ph.D., Andrew H. Woods Chair of Psychiatry in the University of Iowa College of Medicine, will help people learn about the brain and mental illness in a free, public lecture at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, in Macbride Auditorium on the UI campus. The lecture, titled "Understanding the Human Mind and Brain in the Golden Age of Neuroscience," is being presented in honor of Andreasen's recent receipt of the National Medal of Science. A reception in the Old Capitol Rotunda will follow the lecture.

Andreasen will discuss overall concepts about mental illness as well as what researchers, including many UI investigators, have learned about the normal brain and schizophrenia using modern tools of neuroimaging and neuroscience.

"The knowledge that we are obtaining by using the tools of neuroscience offer a great deal of hope that we can eventually develop better treatments, which will reverse or prevent the symptoms more effectively than our current treatments," said Andreasen, who also is director of the UI Mental Health Clinical Research Center.

Andreasen has made distinguished contributions to research into the causes, prevention and treatment of schizophrenia. She is known internationally for her neuroimaging research, which involves the use of magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography.

Andreasen's talk will begin with the normal brain and address three topics: gender differences, aging, and brain development. She will then turn to the topic of mental illness, with a focus on schizophrenia, and describe the evidence suggesting that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental disorder.

In 1997 Andreasen created a new model of schizophrenia based on neuroimaging data. That research suggests that a "misconnection syndrome" -- a brain circuitry disruption -- between certain parts of the brain causes the cognitive dysfunctions, such as hallucinations or disorganized language, that typify schizophrenia.

"We now understand schizophrenia as a disease of misconnections in the brain," Andreasen explained.

In her talk, she will describe three key areas in the brain that are abnormal in schizophrenia: the prefrontal cortex, thalamus and cerebellum.

Schizophrenia has many different signs and symptoms, ranging from paranoid delusions to apathetic withdrawal. Yet it remains a question how this one illness can have so many different manifestations and how it can more effectively be treated or prevented.

"The future of psychiatry is very exciting," Andreasen said. "During the upcoming several decades, we are likely to 'crack' a variety of major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and anxiety and mood disorders."

Andreasen's current research includes three-dimensional image analysis techniques to integrate multi-modality imaging and develop innovative methods for analyzing structural and functional imaging techniques. These neuroimaging techniques allow researchers to better pinpoint and measure the clinical signs of schizophrenia.

Andreasen received the National Medal of Science award Dec. 1. Congress established the award in 1959 as a Presidential award for individuals "deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical or engineering sciences." Her award marks the second time that a UI faculty member has achieved this distinction. James A. Van Allen, UI professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, received the National Medal of Science in 1987.

Andreasen is editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Psychiatry. She has served as chair of the International Advisory Board for the Nobel Symposium on Schizophrenia and is past president of the American Psychopathological Association and the Psychiatric Research Society.
She is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and has twice been elected to serve on its governing council. Andreasen's past honors include the American Psychiatric Association Prize for Research and the Dean Award and the Distinguished Service Award from the American College of Psychiatrists.

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