Pilot grants open door to better mental health care

The Behavioral Health Center of Excellence at UC Davis has awarded three pilot grants for projects designed to improve mental health for Californians.

UC Davis' Behavioral Health Center of Excellence has awarded three grants for new approaches to improving mental health in California. UC Davis’ Behavioral Health Center of Excellence has awarded three grants for new approaches to improving mental health in California.

The funding will go to projects that:

  • explore ways to improve care for children with ADHD;
  • address dosage risks associated with long-term prescription opioid therapies;
  • enhance the skills and understanding of medical trainees when caring for patients with substance use disorders.

“This is seed funding for three stellar proposals,” said Cameron Carter, director of the center, distinguished professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science and the C. Bryan Cameron Presidential Chair in Neuroscience, and. “Our goal is to help position UC Davis faculty and researchers so they can compete for funding. These projects also are designed to strengthen our collaborations with community, regional and statewide partners.”

Selected projects and researchers

The major goal of the center’s pilot grant program is to develop studies that benefit large-scale projects. The program aims to enhance mental health care throughout the state.

The role of norepinephrine-induced neuronal plasticity in attention and learning: This is a collaborative project led by Timothy Hanks, assistant professor of Neurology. Hanks is based at UC Davis’ Center for Neuroscience. His co-investigator is Johannes Hell. The two are focusing their work on the underlying mechanisms for ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). It is the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric condition of childhood and affects hundreds of thousands of children in California alone. This project may have a direct translational benefit. The research could provide the foundation for developing novel treatments that would improve the mental health of children and others with attention and learning deficits.

Investigating the risk of dose reduction for patients prescribed long-term opioid therapy: This project is led by Alicia Agnoli, assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine. Her research addresses the conflicting and incomplete evidence that currently guides the use of prescription opioids. Agnoli notes that there is need to better the predict risks of overdose, suicide and care disruption associated with opioid therapies, especially when reducing dosages for patients on long-term therapy. Her project’s results could help clinicians better understand the problems associated with reducing medications and how they can be balanced for better patient care.

Improving medical trainees’ empathy and effectiveness in caring for people who use drugs: This is the project of Philip Summers, an Emergency Medicine resident physician. Working with associate professor of emergency medicine Samuel Clarke, this project addresses a lack of adequate training among

health care providers who care for patients with substance-use disorders. Summers focuses specifically on improving skills and understanding among medical students and residents — individuals at the early stages of their clinical education and training. The goals are to create tools, protocols and tangible examples of how to provide compassionate, effective care to a challenging patient population.


In 2015, the Behavioral Health Center of Excellence awarded pilot grants to 16 researchers in a variety of disciplines. Each of those grants was designed to provide new approaches to understanding and improving mental health. This year’s projects complement and expand upon the original studies. The pilot grants range up to $25,000 for each year-long project.

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