Geetanjali Sahu, M.D.
Geetanjali Sahu, M.D.

Geetanjali Sahu, M.D., a second-year child and adolescent psychiatry fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at McGovern Medical School, has been selected to receive the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACP) Pilot Research Award for a study that aims to provide new insights on the psychopathology of psychosis in young people.

The funds from the award, totaling $15,000, will be used for Sahu’s own research program. In her research proposal, Sahu said she and her researchers aim to study the role of trauma and brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) in in the evaluation of psychosis in children and adolescents. The BDNF protein is involved in the neurogenesis and neuroplasticity in the brain, and several meta-analysis have shown that there may be a correlation between low BDNF levels and the emergence of schizophrenia.

“While previous studies focused on specific disorders, we will focus on the symptom of psychosis dimensionally across disorders, which has not been done before,” Sahu said in her proposal. “The data generated through this study will help us understand the etiology, heterogeneity, and subthreshold symptomatology of psychosis. This study will also help gather data regarding dimensional assessment that will allow for more specific and individualized clinical evaluation of psychotic patients.”

The primary aims of the study will not only study symptoms of psychosis dimensionally across disorders, but also any correlation between BDNF genotype-methylation and psychosis and any correlation between trauma and methylation of BDNF across different levels of psychotic symptoms.

“The dimensional and methylation data that this study will generate can be used to study the potential of methylation as a dynamic marker for psychosis,” Sahu said. “Considering that epigenetic changes are reversible, this finding can serve as the cornerstone for finding new preventative and/or individualized treatment for people undergoing psychotic experiences.”

Gabriel Fries, Ph.D., a research fellow, will be a co-investigator for the study. Cristian Zeni, M.D., Ph.D.assistant professor of psychiatry and the director of the Mood Disorders and ADHD Clinics for Children and Adolescents and the Pediatric Mood Disorders Second Opinion Clinic, and Consuelo Walss-Bass, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Psychiatric Genetics Program and UTHealth Brain Collection For Research In Psychiatric Disorders, will be mentors.

The AACP Pilot Research Award offers $15,000 for general psychiatry residents who have an interest in beginning a career in child and adolescent health research. Recipients are encouraged to work with a child and adolescent psychiatric investigator with expertise in their particular area.

-written by Jonathan Garris, Office of Communications