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Psychiatrist establishes fellowship for brain research

Dr. Lorna Carlin stands with UC Irvine School of Medicine student researchers.
Steve Zylius / UC Irvine Strategic Communications
Dr. Lorna Carlin stands with UC Irvine School of Medicine student researchers who have reinvigorated her interest in understanding the brain.

When Dr. Lorna Carlin accepted friend Stanley Behrens’ invitation to serve on UC Irvine School of Medicine’s selection committee for the first privately funded graduate research award, she didn’t foresee that she'd be inspired to make her own gift.

Carlin, a retired psychiatrist, discovered that she enjoyed learning about novel concepts that the university's passionate young researchers were pursuing to improve health. These graduate students were applying for the Stanley Behrens Fellows in Medicine Program.

“I read the proposals submitted by the applicants and became very enthusiastic about their dedication and work,” Carlin said. “In addition, these researchers were generous with their efforts to mentor and be involved with the community. It was very impressive.”

Carlin saw that establishing a scholarship would be a way to stay connected to the brain research that had intrigued her in her clinical career.

As a newly licensed psychiatrist specializing in geriatric issues, Carlin had participated in Alzheimer’s disease studies at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. In the years that followed, her clinical work focused on treating seniors. She encountered patients of many different ages with varying stages of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. All were living with conditions for which there was no proven therapy.

"Over the years, the people who were particularly difficult for me were those who had familial Alzheimer’s disease and developed symptoms at a very young age — in their 40s or 50s," she said. "One, I remember, was an architect."

She recalled that the architect not only had the expected symptoms, but he also "had limited ability to recognize things for what they were. If you were in a room with a chair and you asked him to sit down, he didn’t know what to do. It was very sad."

When Carlin made the move to California, she shifted her focus to forensic psychiatry. This choice of sub-specialty reflected a consistent theme in her medical career — a fascination with the brain.

"My interest in the brain has only increased over time," she said. "It is the command center coordinating all input from the nervous system. The brain is not static, but constantly changing from birth to death. In addition, there is the mysterious brain and mind interface.”

Carlin recognizes that research required to unlock these mysteries is expensive. Government funding alone cannot cover the costs of discovery. As she connected with potential Behrens Scholars, she saw how she could make a difference.

Following the model set by Behrens, she made a $20,000 gift to the medical school's Office of Graduate Studies. Each year for four years, one research fellow will receive a $5,000 Dr. Lorna Carlin Scholar Award, with preference given for reasearch in the areas of ALS, translational research in epigenetics, traumatic brain injury, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, as well as brain degeneration and how it relates to inflammation.

Carlin expressed gratitude to Klemens Hertel, PhD, associate dean for Graduate Studies, for being open to engaging donors in the award process.

"Dr. Hertel has indicated he is very happy for me to be a member of the selection committee, along with UC Irvine faculty," Carlin said. "I consider it a great privilege to be able to read the proposals of these exceptional applicants and meet the finalists to learn more about them and their work. It’s a way for me to connect — without going back to work."

Giving

Want to donate to graduate student scholarships? Please call 714-509-2105, email taylorkr@uci.edu or give online at http://www.uadv.uci.edu/egiving/. On the drop-down menu, choose "School of Medicine," then select "SOM graduate studies discretionary funds."

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