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The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation named Justin Wolter, PhD, postdoc in the Neuroscience Research Center, as a recipient of the Young Investigator Award.

Justin Wolter, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the labs of Jason Stein, PhD, and Mark Zylka, PhD, at the UNC Neuroscience Research Center, the UNC Department of Genetics, and the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, was named a recipient of the 2021 Young Instigator Award by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF). The award is for $70,000 over two years.

In his research at the UNC School of Medicine, Wolter aims to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms of neurodevelopmental diseases. With the BBRF award, he will establish a resource to systematically identify genetic interactions between high-risk autism genes and common genetic variation. This project will build upon work in which Wolter established a cell culture-based approach to conduct genome wide association studies in primary human neural progenitor cells.

Wolter will establish a pilot library of genetically diverse induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines to explore how common and rare genetic variation interact to influence risk and resilience in a genetically defined subtype of autism.

In 2020, Wolter was first author of a Nature paper from the Zylka lab showing how to use the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 as part of a potential gene therapy approach to treating Angelman syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.

Initiated in 1987, the BBRF Young Investigator Grant program provides support for the most promising young scientists conducting neurobiological and psychiatric research. This program facilitates innovative research through support of early-career basic, translational and clinical investigators.

This year, the Foundation’s Scientific Council, led by Herbert Pardes, MD, and comprised of 176 world-renowned scientists with expertise in every area of brain research, reviewed more than 780 applications and selected the 150 meritorious research projects. Many of the Young Investigator grantees are pursuing basic research projects. Others are specifically focusing on new ideas for therapies, diagnostic tools, and technologies. These research projects will provide future insights and advances that will help move the fields of psychiatry and neuroscience forward.