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A $600,000 gift from the Patrick P. Lee Foundation is funding a University at Buffalo scientist’s promising research on the cause of schizophrenia.

It is the foundation’s largest grant to UB.

Schizophrenia, a disease that affects about 2 million Americans, most often strikes men and women from adolescence through adulthood, but its origins may lie in genetic missteps years earlier, when those it afflicts are still in the womb.

This is one implication of new findings from the laboratory of Michal Stachowiak, professor in the UB Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The Lee Foundation grant will fund four-year fellowships for three doctors or doctor trainees to investigate a new approach to schizophrenia under the direction of Stachowiak and his team. The team is focusing on revealing the causes and neurodevelopmental mechanisms of schizophrenia.

“They are hoping to discover new possibilities for developing schizophrenia treatments, even a way to affect the development of this disease,” said Patrick P. Lee, foundation chairman, in a news release.

In addition to producing the young researchers who will join the race to understand schizophrenia, the fellowships help support Stachowiak’s research efforts.

Stachowiak says findings of novel gene-regulatory mechanisms suggest it might be possible to arrest the progression of the disease before it fully develops.

“We believe that the transgenic mouse developed in our laboratory offers a unique model that explains schizophrenia from genes to brain structure and finally to development,” he said. “We have dedicated our careers to better understanding schizophrenia, and we are very close to reaching a great milestone in how to treat this disease.”

The foundation, based in Amherst, was formed in 1995 by Lee, who built International Motion Control. It was acquired by ITT in 2007.