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APA Research in Psychiatry Award

Dr. David Lewis Receives the 2014 American Psychiatric Association
Award for Research in Psychiatry


The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has awarded Dr. David Lewis with its most significant research award: The APA Award for Research in Psychiatry. Since 1949, this prize has been awarded annually by the association in recognition of a single distinguished contribution, a body of work, or a lifetime contribution that has had a major influence on the field of psychiatry. Indeed, the pool from which recipients of this award are selected comprises very highly accomplished psychiatric researchers.

As a recipient, Dr. Lewis was invited to give an honorary lecture at the Institute on Psychiatric Services meeting in San Francisco, CA, held from October 30 to November 2, 2014. For his presentation, entitled “Sensitive periods in brain development: Unmasking how life experience confers risk for psychiatric illness”, Dr. Lewis provided a review of the current evidence supporting three ideas regarding the development of schizophrenia: firstly that impairments in certain cognitive processes are the core feature of schizophrenia; secondly, that these cognitive impairments reflect abnormalities in specific cortical circuits; and, finally, that these circuitry abnormalities arise during childhood-adolescence. As an illustration, Dr. Lewis discussed the process by which both excitatory and inhibitory components of prefrontal cortical circuitry undergo marked developmental changes in molecular content, structural features and electrophysiological properties. Many of these changes are protracted, persisting through adolescence, but the rate and timing of the changes are distinctive to specific circuit components. In his talk, Dr. Lewis demonstrated how this constellation of developmental trajectories likely provides the neural substrate for the maturation of cognitive abilities that are dependent on prefrontal circuitry, and also suggests the presence of multiple developmental epochs when circuit components may be particularly sensitive to adverse experiences, such as use of cannabis. Dr. Lewis closed by presenting the significance of these findings for the development and implementation of safe, preemptive, disease-modifying interventions in individuals at high risk for a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia.