Extraordinary Growth

Lasting Impact

The Foundation of Hope’s research grants don’t just fund great science at the University of Chapel Hill’s Department of Psychology. They also propel that important work into the national spotlight, earning millions of dollars from The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other organizations. Since 1984, the Foundation has awarded over $5 million in research grants; those funds have, in turn, leveraged an additional $145 million in external research funding.

We are so proud of the work our researchers do, and excited to follow the progress of their tremendous efforts. Here, we highlight some of our most successful funded projects, many of which are still growing and earning attention:

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, M.D. | gPACT – a rapid, large & inexpensive study of Postpartum Depression | December 2015

Seed: $99,000 → Growth: $400,000 → Growth: $1 million+ in International Funds

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health; Sage Therapeutics; Australian, Canadian, and Danish institutions 

Research Summary: To learn more about the biological basis of postpartum mood disorders by conducting a large genome-wide association study, Dr. Meltzer-Brody and her colleagues developed their app through the use of the open-source Apple ResearchKit, used by researchers around the world to help maximize sample size and minimize costs.


Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D. | Genetic Consortium for Anorexia Nervosa | March 2010

Seed: $40,768 → Growth: $8.1 million

Growth Sponsor: Klarman Family Foundation

Research Summary: Dr. Bulik spearheaded a worldwide database of DNA samples of individuals with anorexia nervosa, giving researchers unprecedented quantities of genetic data they can use to study this dangerous eating disorder.

Results and Next Steps: The Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative is the largest and most rigorous study of the genetic variations that contribute to eating disorders ever conducted. Over 8,000 samples have been collected from four countries, and are currently being genotyped.


Gabriel Dichter, Ph.D. | Neural Correlates of Reward in Autism | March 2009

Seed: $39,947 → Growth: $2.85 million → Growth: $2.85 million
Growth: $2.5 million

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Dichter studied reward processing connections in patients with autism spectrum disorder, and compared his results to that of a set of control subjects.

Results and Next Steps: Using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resource imaging (MRI), the next phase of the study will evaluate the brain network and dopamine reactions in individuals with autism spectrum disorder during reward processing.



Flavio Frohlich, Ph.D. | Speaking the Language of the Brain: Adaptive Non-Invasive Brain Stimulation to Enhance Neuronal Communication for the Treatment of Mental Illness | March 2012

Seed: $40,000 → Growth: $2.25 million → Growth: $2.4 million

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Frohlich focused on brain networks in animals to understand how different parts of the brain coordinate a variety of activities, and the effects of noninvasive, weak stimulation on those networks.

Results and Next Steps: The incredible initial study findings resulted in a highly selective BRAINS award. One study has expanded to a pilot program testing weak electrical stimulation (similar to that of a 9-volt battery) in humans as a potential treatment for mental illnesses. The other study mechanistically categorizes the effects of transcranial alternating current stimulation on the brain networks using computational models.

Mary Kimmel, M.D. | The Gut Microbiome and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD): A Pilot Study to Examine the Microbiome in Relation to Perinatal Changes | May 2015

Seed: $39,912 → Growth: $737,000

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Kimmel investigated the changes in the gut microbiota of women across the perinatal period (pregnancy and the postpartum) in relation to the development of depression and anxiety.

Results and Next Steps: The Career Development award is a testament to Dr. Kimmel’s research acumen and the continued contributions she will make to the study of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. It widens the participation for the study of women with postpartum depression and provides protected research time.


Cort Pedersen, M.D. | Oxytocin Treatment of Social Deficits and Paranoia in Schizophrenia | November 2008

Seed: $33,069 → Growth: $1.6 million

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: This was a small pilot study of the effect of oxytocin, a hormone critical for social behavior and bonding, on schizophrenic symptoms.

Results and Next Steps: Using oxytocin as a treatment for mental illness symptoms is novel, but Dr. Pedersen’s findings were so promising, he is expanding his study and treatment program, and oxytocin is now being researched by other UNC-CH psychiatry faculty as a treatment option for autism and substance abuse.


Joseph Piven, M.D. | Mapping the Development of Joint Attention Neural Circuitry | March 2010

Seed: $39,999 → Growth: $10 million

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Research Summary: Dr. Piven looked at joint attention cues (recognition of facial cues and focusing on the same item as others) in children with autism, and discovered some intriguing differences.

Results and Next Steps: Dr. Piven is continuing his neurodevelopmental disorders research through an Autism Center of Excellence, focusing on using MRI detection to study infants and identify those at high risk for autism early in the child’s development. 


Rebecca Santelli, Ph.D. | Identifying Key Metabolites in the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis During Infancy | May 2016

Seed: $40,000 → Growth: $2.7 million

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary: Dr. Santelli created a study to examine the microbiota of infants, to determine whether correlations exist between bacterial colonization and human brain development.

Results and Next Steps: The first study to test microbial composition relative to anxious behavior, this exciting pilot clinical trial is a significant first step in developing novel interventions to promote a healthy microbiome and reduce risk for psychiatric illness.

Crystal Schiller, Ph.D. | Gonadal Steroids and Neural Function in an Experimental Model of Postpartum Depression | May 2016

Seed: $39,984 → Growth: $418,000 → Growth: $228,000
→ Growth: $414,909

Growth Sponsor: National Institute of Mental Health

Research Summary:  The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of hormones on mood and brain function in women at high risk for postpartum depression by administering hormones that mimic pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Results and Next Steps: In women at high risk for postpartum depression, hormones triggered symptoms of depression and anxiety and altered brain activity in circuits important for regulating mood. This research represents the first step in understanding how hormones impact the brain to trigger depression in women. In the future, this line of work will allow us to develop new interventions to prevent and treat reproductive-related mood disorders, including postpartum depression.