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Release: Aug. 5, 2002

UI psychiatrist selected as Mallinckrodt Scholar

A University of Iowa Health Care physician has been selected as the 41st Mallinckrodt Scholar by the Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation in St. Louis.

Sergio Paradiso, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor of psychiatry, is the first UI faculty member ever to receive the honor, which includes a three-year $210,000 award that will be effective Oct. 1. Paradiso will use the funds to investigate changes in emotional processing in the elderly as a predictor of elderly depression.

The Mallinckrodt Scholar program was started about 18 years ago, according to Oliver Langenberg, the foundation's president. The program's objective is to help junior investigators develop their research careers. Select medical schools are invited to submit the credentials of one candidate to apply for the scholarship. Paradiso was chosen as the UI's candidate based on departmental nominations in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

"We want to help the best young researchers get their laboratories going so they can get to the next phase of research," Langenberg said. "This year we had a very fine group of potential scholars, and we were quite impressed with Dr. Paradiso."

Paradiso said the novelty of his study is that most investigations have not taken a functional approach to understanding emotional processing as a predictor for late-life mood disorders.

"Previous studies have looked at the changes in the aging brain using static images like MRI or have focused on functional changes during cognitive challenges," he said. "However, we are going to look at the function of the brain while it is processing emotions. Participants will be asked to determine whether a set of visual stimuli are pleasant or unpleasant to them. We will measure their emotional reaction and identify the brain circuitry that is engaged by this mental activity."

Paradiso said that preliminary data show that some older people have changes in the way they process emotions and, as a group, do not negatively perceive unpleasant images that are uniformly perceived negatively by younger people, for example.

"As people age, their ability to process emotion may change in different directions," Paradiso said. "The ability to appreciate pleasant images as pleasant may be reduced as well as the ability to

see unpleasant images as unpleasant. These changes may be linked to specific areas in the brain and may be responsible for whether a person develops a depressive disorder in late life."

The study will attempt to answer whether these changes are either adaptive phenomena that have a protective function or are predisposing factors for depression for the elderly.

Paradiso was nominated for the Mallinckrodt Scholar Program by Robert G. Robinson, M.D., the Paul W. Penningroth Professor and Head of Psychiatry, who has worked with Paradiso since 1994.

"Dr. Paradiso's work in brain imaging and psychiatry disorders associated with brain injury or epilepsy has led to his intended career focus in geriatric neuropsychiatry," Robinson said. "He will be a valued member of the psychiatric research community in the future and will contribute significantly to our understanding of neuropsychiatry."

Paradiso, who completed a residency and fellowship in psychiatry at the UI, was appointed to the UI faculty last fall. His previous research has included studies of emotional processing in normal volunteers, in people with schizophrenia and in individuals with stroke that has affected specific brain areas.

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