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Gottesman wins award for identifying mental illness factors

by UofL Today last modified Nov 27, 2012 04:12 PM

A mental health pioneer who explored the basis of schizophrenia and the way mental disorders are classified has won the 2013 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Gottesman wins award for identifying mental illness factors

Irving Gottesman

Irving Gottesman, the retired Irving and Dorothy Bernstein professor of adult psychiatry and current senior psychology fellow at University of Minnesota, received the prize. He also is Sherrell J. Aston professor of psychology emeritus at University of Virginia.

Working with researcher James Shields, Gottesman developed a model accounting for the genetic and environmental factors that can affect the risk of developing schizophrenia over time — defying prevailing scientific beliefs that only heredity or environment can account for the condition.

The two worked in London in the 1960s on a twin study of schizophrenia at the Medical Research Council Psychiatric Genetics Unit at Maudsley Hospital. Shields died in 1978.

Their model gave rise to the concept of “endophenotypes,” or measurable traits in people without discernible mental health disorders who could be at risk of developing them. Experts have said the concept could lead to a better classification system for psychiatric disorders than the one used for more than a century.

Over time, researchers have expanded Gottesman’s work to explain degrees of other psychiatric conditions, including autism, alcohol dependence and bipolar disorders.

“Gottesman’s idea has transformed our assumptions about the origins of psychological disease and wellness and, in turn, has helped to shape our contemporary understanding of the complexities of human nature,” his nominator wrote.

A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Gottesman has written or co-written several books on schizophrenia and genetics.

Before joining the University of Minnesota, he held faculty posts at Harvard University, Washington University School of Medicine and University of North Carolina. He also held fellowships at Stanford University, University of Copenhagen, University of London and the A.H. Wilder Child Guidance Clinic in St. Paul, Minn., and recently was elected an honorary fellow at Kings College London.

A U.S. Navy Korean War veteran, he also served as clinical psychology resident at the U.S. Veterans Hospital in Minneapolis.

UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. The 2013 awards are $100,000 each. This week, UofL will announce award recipients in this order: Thursday, education; and Friday, religion. Music and world order already were announced.

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