Pearl Chiu, assistant professor with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, has received a $1.125 million National Institute of Mental Health BRAINS award -- Biobehavioral Research Award for Innovative New Scientists -- to study depression and substance abuse.

She will use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study why depression and substance abuse occur together so often, and to quantify the conditions as disorders on a continuum of motivation difficulties. The formal title of the five-year project is “Neuroimaging major depression and nicotine dependence on axes of valuation.”

The BRAINS initiative was created to support the research programs and career development of outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers and who plan to make a long term commitment to research most relevant to the National Institute of Mental Health. This award seeks to assist individuals in launching an innovative clinical, translational, or basic research program that holds the potential to profoundly transform the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of mental disorders.

The BRAINS awards ceremony was Monday, Jan. 31, at the National Institutes of Health Neuroscience Center Building in Washington, D.C. Chiu was one of 13 recipients from universities across the country.

Chiu studies the behavioral and biological basis of human brain function with functional brain imaging and computational analyses in psychiatric disease including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse. She is also assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech.

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