Jacobs Foundation Awards Professors Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi Annual Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize

Recognizes Groundbreaking Research of the Interaction between Genetics and Environment in Lifelong Mental Development

Oct 19, 2010, 10:34 ET from Jacobs Foundation

ZURICH, Oct. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The Jacobs Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Europe in the field of youth development in terms of resources and financial commitments, today announced Professors Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi as the recipients of the second annual Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize of one million USD for their trailblazing discoveries of how specific genes, along with environmental factors, are predictors of how childhood stress will impact individuals in adulthood, including the onset of depression, anti-social behavior, and/or physical disease.

The Prize is presented in recognition of outstanding scientific accomplishments which represent groundbreaking contributions to the improvement of the lives of children.  An international, cross-disciplinary jury composed of scientists from leading research institutions around the world selected Professors Moffitt and Caspi as the Prize beneficiaries.  The Prize is intended to provide financial support for continuing research on psychological and neuroscientific development.  The award ceremony will take place at the University of Zurich on December 3, the birthday of Klaus J. Jacobs, the architect of the Foundation and namesake of the Prize.  

"We are extremely proud to award the second annual Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize to Professors Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi," said Dr. Bernd Ebersold, CEO of the Jacobs Foundation.  "As leaders in the fields of developmental psychology and neuroscience, Professor Moffitt and Professor Caspi exemplify the Foundation's commitment to research, application, and active communication to improve the lives of young people.  It is our hope that this Prize will enable Professors Moffitt and Caspi to expand upon their extraordinary scientific contributions and continue to support the development of children and well-being of adults around the world."

Caspi and Moffitt, who are married, have a distinguished record of scientific accomplishments contributing to an understanding of human development and mental health.

Moffitt and Caspi's collaborative work over two decades demonstrates their wide-ranging contributions to the understanding of genetic, situational, and experiential influences on youth development and their combined influence on adult behavior and health. Beyond the purely scientific value of their research, their work has wider implications for educational and social policy that promotes child and youth development that fosters productive lives as adults.  Particularly, Moffitt and Caspi's research points to a complex interaction between genes and the environment (GxE) and the way, together, they predict the outcomes of childhood adversity in adults. Conducting two longitudinal studies, Moffitt and Caspi uncovered links between specific genetic mutations – either having at least one short 5-HTT (serotonin regulator) allele or lower levels of monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) – along with maltreatment during childhood, and elevated rates of depression, anti-social behavior, and health problems such as elevated inflammation and heart disease.

In sum, Moffitt and Caspi's research suggests that a "bad" genotype is not a sentence for a lifelong struggle – good parenting can overcome it. Likewise, a "bad" environment is not a sentence either, because you must also have "bad" genes. And even the combination of "bad" environment and "bad" genes does not condemn children to a future of crime or depression – it merely tips the scales a little in that direction.  Their research indicates GxE plays a central role in psychology's resilience theories about children who have good mental health despite adversity, and in psychopathology's theories of mental illness.  These findings could change our understanding of the effects of child abuse, but could also be translated to intervention and treatment. Eventually, a designer drug might succeed in mimicking what the long-allele variation of 5-HTT does to foster resilience.

Professor Moffitt is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and Professor of Social Behavior & Development at King's College in London. She also works, together with her husband, Professor Caspi, at the Dunedin School of Medicine, in New Zealand, where she is associate director of the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which follows 1,000 people born in 1972 in New Zealand.  She is a licensed clinical psychologist who completed her clinical training at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute.  Moffitt has received the American Psychological Association's Early Career Contribution Award (1993) and Distinguished Career Award in Clinical Child Psychology (2006). Moffitt was also awarded a Royal Society-Wolfson Merit Award, and was co-recipient of the Stockholm Prize in Criminology. She is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the American Society of Criminology, the British Academy, Academia Europaea, and the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She has served on investigative panels for institutions such as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (ethics of behavioral genetics research) and the US National Academy of Sciences (research into firearms and drug markets).

Professor Caspi is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and Professor of Personality Development at King's College London, UK. Caspi grew up in Israel and received his Ph.D. at Cornell University. His research spans the fields of psychology, epidemiology, and genetics.  Caspi has received awards from the American Psychological Association, the Society for Research in Adolescence, the American Public Health Association, and the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development, as well as the Mortimer D. Sackler MD Prize for Distinguished Achievement in Developmental Psychobiology.  He has served on the Executive Council of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development, and is involved in international teaching and training initiatives in developmental psychopathology.

About the Jacobs Foundation

Established in 1988, the Jacobs Foundation funds interdisciplinary research and pilot projects in the area of youth development in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Southern Asia.  Through the integration of research, application and intervention, as well as dialogue and network building, the Foundation seeks to develop the potential of young people and to help them become socially responsible and productive members of society.  In 2006, the Jacobs Foundation committed € 200 million to support the Jacobs University Bremen in Germany, one of the largest-ever donations to a private higher education institute in Europe.   With an annual budget of approximately 35 million Swiss francs, the Jacobs Foundation is the largest philanthropic organization in Europe dedicated to improving the lives of children globally.  

SOURCE Jacobs Foundation