Barch receives $3.5 million for research on brain, mental illness

Mental health researcher Deanna Barch, of Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded a $3.5 million MERIT award from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


Barch is chair of the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences in Arts & Sciences and the Gregory B. Couch Professor of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine.

The grant will support up to five years of research — with the expectation of additional years of funding. MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) awards provide long-term grant support to outstanding investigators with the opportunity for long-term stable support to foster continued scientific creativity and to minimize the administrative burdens associated with preparing and submitting grant applications.

Investigators cannot apply for MERIT awards, but rather are selected by the NIH through an internal review process. Selection of NIMH MERIT awardees is based on nomination by NIMH program staff, with concurrence and favorable recommendation by the National Advisory Mental Health Council. Fewer than 5 percent of funded NIH investigators are selected to receive MERIT awards.

Barch, an expert on the behavioral and brain mechanisms that lead to mental health problems, studies how and why individuals with psychosis and other mental illnesses have problems with memory, thinking and the ability to carry out the activities of daily living. She has been particularly interested in how disruptions in the brain circuits that normally support goal-directed action contribute to these types of problems among individuals with illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

With the grant funding, Barch will continue studying what is referred to as effort-cost decision-making (calculations that individuals perform to estimate the amount of physical or cognitive “work” required to obtain a reward) and how disruptions in the brain systems that support this kind of decision-making may be a key contributor to motivational challenges among individuals with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder and depression.

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