A US-Palestinian Brain Health Alliance is being created with a new grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to Professor Mark Gluck, Ph.D., of Rutgers University-Newark and his Palestinian partner, Mohammad Herzallah, M.D. Funded through the "Brain Disorders in the Developing World" program of the NIH's Fogarty International Center, this award will support collaborative brain research and education programs between the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, and the Al-Quds University Medical School in Abu Dis, Palestine. Embodying Rutgers' mission to promote "Jersey Roots, Global Reach", this two-year award (2012-2014) of $298,346 ($156,048 in the first year) will fund Gluck and Herzallah to study "Learning and Decision Making in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder."
Major Depressive Disorder ("clinical depression") is the leading mental health problem in the West Bank, affecting approximately 24% of men and almost twice as many (45%) of women, rates that are two to three times higher than in the USA. Focusing on clinical depression targets a critical regional mental health issue and provides Gluck and Herzallah with the opportunity to take advantage of unique cultural, environmental, familial, clinical, and genetic aspects of depression among West Bank Palestinians with implications for advancing science and treatment of depression worldwide. Clinical depression is characterized by a long-lasting depressed mood or marked loss of interest or pleasure in all or nearly all activities. Antidepressant medications can remediate depressive symptoms in some but not all patients suffering from clinical depression. Over the next two years, Gluck and Herzallah, along with their colleagues at Rutgers and Al-Quds will pursue three goals:
#1: Further develop the environment, personnel, and infrastructure at Al-Quds University for neuroscience research.
#2: Study the cognitive correlates of depression among West Bank Palestinians, focusing on how the disorder and antidepressant medications alter learning and decision making.
#3: Use the collected data and expected infrastructural growth at Al-Quds as the basis for a future proposal to the NIH Brain Disorders in the Developing World program for a larger and longer program of collaborative neuroscience and psychiatric research between Rutgers and Al-Quds.
The US-Palestinian Brain Health Alliance, based at Rutgers-Newark, also includes other American partners for research collaboration and training, including Harvard Medical School, North Shore-LIJ, and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
As a part of these new NIH-supported programs, Rutgers will help establish a new Palestinian Women’s Mental Health Initiative at Al-Quds University to address three critical regional needs: (1) recruiting and training more Palestinian women psychiatrists and neurologists, (2) improving clinical treatment for mood disorders and other mental health issues among Arab women, and (3) creating research programs conducted by women, studying women, to better understand local mental health issues for women. The Palestinian Women Mental Health Initiative will work to raise awareness about mental health disorders among Palestinian women and seek to reduce the social stigma associated with depression and other mental disorders.
These programs are intended to lead to the establishment of a future Palestinian Neurosciences Institute at Al-Quds University Medical School, as well as a local Palestinian Neuroscience Society. Based in the West Bank/Palestinian Territories, these new research, clinical, and educational programs at Al-Quds University, developed in partnership with Rutgers University-Newark, has the potential to be a formidable contributor to research and health care in the West Bank, and a viable research and educational partner for other future collaborative relationships worldwide.