Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Awards Young Investigator Grant to Researcher at Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine

Press Release

Two-year Funding Compares Genetic Testing and Immune System Screening to Traditional Medical Tests to Finding Underlying Causes for Catatonia in Children

Headshot of Aaron Besterman
Aaron Besterman, MD

Rady Childrens Institute for Genomic Medicine (RCIGM), a non-profit research institute enabling rapid diagnosis and targeted treatment of critically ill newborns and pediatric patients, is proud to announce that Aaron D. Besterman, MD, received a Young Investigator Grant from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation. Besterman is a principal investigator for RCIGM and an attending psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. In addition, he is a Health Sciences Assistant Clinical Professor at the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry.

Besterman is one of 150 promising early career scientists honored for their work to identify causes, improve treatments, and develop methods of prevention for psychiatric illnesses. The grant money from this award – $35,000 for two years – will fund research on diagnostic tools and early intervention for catatonia, a complex condition that affects children’s behavior, movement and emotions. Catatonia impacts approximately 20,000 children in the U.S. each . Patients with catatonia rapidly regress both from a motor perspective where they become “frozen” with little to no movement and a psychological perspective where their thinking is greatly impaired.

“I’m honored that the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation is recognizing the need to explore the root causes of catatonia in youth in a more in-depth way than has ever been done before,” said Besterman, MD, Principal Investigator for Rady Childrens Institute for Genomic Medicine. “This NARSD Young Investigator Award will give me the support to delve deeper into understanding catatonia in youth and potentially pave the way for groundbreaking treatments.”

Besterman aims to compare the effectiveness of traditional medical tests with a more advanced approach that includes genetic testing and immune system screening in finding underlying causes. The research team will compare two groups of children with catatonia. One group will be identified from hospital records and will have undergone standard medical tests to find the cause of their catatonia. The other group will be a new set of patients who will receive both standard medical tests and additional advanced testing, including genome sequencing and screening for antibodies that attack the brain. They expect that combining standard medical tests with genome sequencing and autoantibody screening will be more effective.

“BBRF Young Investigator grants have led to groundbreaking research that has improved the lives of people living with mental illness,” said Herbert Pardes, MD, President of the BBRF Scientific Council. “These early-career scientists are making significant strides in basic research, early intervention, and diagnostic tools, new technologies, and next-generation therapies that will offer the best hope for advances in treatments for psychiatric illness.”

For detailed information about the other Young Investigator Grant recipients and their projects, click here.

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