STARR News & Updates

January 2024

STARR Award Winners Announced!

Congratulations to Rural Minds, NTXCT, Karuna, and Michelle Roberts on being recognized for their exceptional dedication to advocating on behalf of those living with mental health illnesses, their efforts to fight the stigma of mental illness, and their support of the STARR Coalition and our collective efforts to support mental health clinical research!

We will spotlight each of the winners of this year's STARR Awards in the coming months, but you can check out the celebration video below.

Watch the Awards Celebration video!

January is

National Mentoring


January is recognized as National Mentoring Month, a month-long opportunity to focus on being a mentor and raising awareness of mentoring. Founded in 2002, National Mentoring Month celebrates mentoring and the positive effect it can have, particularly on young people. Its goals are to:

  • Raise awareness of mentoring in its various forms.
  • Recruit individuals to mentor, especially in programs that have waiting lists of young people.
  • Promote the rapid growth of mentoring by recruiting organizations to engage their constituents in mentoring.

This month, take time out to mentor or share some wisdom with someone, whether it's a young person, a friend, or a colleague.

Check out our article for details and resources on Mentoring here.

We're leaping into 2024 with a newsletter refresh! We hope the new format is easier to read and navigate through.

Let us know if you love it or prefer the old layout!

We are working on our strategic plan for 2024 and will keep you updated as we roll it out. In the meantime, check out the program updates in this newsletter below the Events list!

What is Micro Mentoring?


Don't let lack of time hinder your ability to guide and mentor someone. It's a misconception that mentoring necessitates long-term commitments spanning months or years. Rather, consider the potency of concentrated and targeted mentorship aimed at a specific aspect. You can make a significant impact in a short time.

By zeroing in on a particular subject, skill, or project, you can channel focused mentorship toward enhancing growth and development in a specific area in a very short period -- or even in one focused session.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to share some knowledge and experience!

News from the Certified Sites

North Texas Clinical Trials (NTXCT) had their own Toys-for-Tots toy drive and collected santa-sacks full of toys for local kids!

NTXCT believes wholeheartedly in nurturing compassionate relationships and fostering an environment of genuine care. To show their gratitude for the trust and dedication their patients have shown them, the NTXCT team spread joy with thoughtful gifts for their patients, as well.

It's exactly that sort of compassion that garnered NTXCT this year's STARR Site of the Year Award!

Congratulations, NTXCT -- amazing work!

CenExel RCA brought in Cecily Hernandez as their Community Partnership Manager and in December, Cecily introduced the CenExel team to Florida Healthcare System's new Broward location staff! Together, they discussed community outreach and events that will increase both company's reach to best serve the South Florida community in need of resources.

These types of community partnerships are the key to everyone's success and ability to help all!

Evolution Research Group (ERG), is proud to introduce its latest innovation, two Mobile Health Units. “The Rock”, serving the state of Arkansas and the “The Memory Machine”, serving Delray Beach and Fort Myers, Florida, provide an all-in-one mobile solution for patient engagement, education, and outreach. These innovative vehicles are set to transform the way clinical research approaches education, bringing vital healthcare information, research opportunities and services directly to communities in need.

Segal Trials sponsored the North Miami Beach Parks & Recreations Snow Fest and Holiday Parade in December. The Segal team came out for the celebration of joy and community spirit, participating in the delightful holiday-themed activities, cheerful parades, and a snowy surprise that will light up the faces of both the young and the young at heart.

Pillar Clinical Research's Bentonville team supported the 2023 Trail of Love, presented by Lighthouse Solutions. The mission of Trails of Love is to spread love by blessing families in need with physical and spiritual gift-giving during the holiday season. The goal is for families to walk away empowered for greatness and inspired to pay it forward to other families in their community. Pictured is Clyde from Pillar Clinical Research serving others.

Pillar Clinical Research (AR) was recognized as among the top mental health providers in Northwest Arkansas. Each year, the readers of CitiScapes Northwest Arkansas vote for the best providers in the area and this year, the people voted the Pillar - Bentonville site as among the best!

Way to go, Pillar team!

Just as 2023 was coming to a close, Karuna Therapeutics floored us with the monumental news that they closed a deal with BMS to sell.

Bristol Myers Squibb has agreed to acquire Karuna Therapeutics for $14 billion, betting that the biotechnology company’s experimental schizophrenia drug will become a top-selling medicine.

Per the deal terms announced Friday, December 22nd, Bristol Myers will pay $330 a share for Karuna, a roughly 53% premium to its closing price on Dec. 21. KarXT is expected to launch in late 2024 in the U.S. as a treatment for schizophrenia in adults.

Boehringer Ingelheim initiated the CONVOKE study in 2023 to evaluate the efficacy and safety of two prescription digital therapeutics in addition to standard of care (SOC) therapy for the treatment of experiential negative symptoms of schizophrenia in late adolescence and adults.

“Holistic treatments remain a major unmet need in the care of individuals living with schizophrenia. The potential for innovative solutions to address negative symptoms and support data driven clinical decisions could have a significant impact to individuals and families living with schizophrenia,” notes Gordon Lavigne, President and CEO of The Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance.

As of January 2024, the digital therapeutic has received Breakthrough Device designation by the Food and Drug Administration. Read the release here.

Boehringer Ingelheim hosted a pop-up in NYC to underscore the extent to which cognitive impairments impact people living with schizophrenia.

As part of its Stable Isn’t campaign, Boehringer offered the public an immersive experience to demonstrate how much of a struggle it can be to live with schizophrenia. The Look Beyond Stable display features two model apartments in disarray. The beds are unmade, garbage, leftover food and a litany of half-finished drinks are strewn across the floor and furniture, while aluminum foil with tiny holes cover the windows.

Additionally, sticky notes are found all over the apartment as reminders of tasks and errands to do, many of which pile up on top of each other.

When schizophrenia is discussed, the focus has largely remained on the “positive symptoms” like hallucinations and hearing voices.

“Once the person living with schizophrenia is stabilized, all of the other negative symptoms like cognitive impairment are not talked about and are not treated,” said Christine Sakdalan, the U.S. head of the mental health franchise at Boehringer Ingelheim.

The negative symptoms include cognitive impairment (impacting attention, working memory, verbal learning, memory, and executive functions), diminished motivation, and a decreased capacity for experiencing pleasure. These challenges can impede patients' capacity to sustain employment, relationships, and even a regular daily routine.

This immersive experience aims to increase the public's understanding of schizophrenia and de-stigmatize schizophrenia, while also issuing a call for action to address the negative symptoms.

Study finds ED visits for schizophrenia spectrum disorders up after pandemic onset - The number of emergency department visits for schizophrenia spectrum disorders increased after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online Dec. 27 in JAMA Network Open. Data were included for 377,872 psychiatric emergency department visits, of which 37,815 visits were for schizophrenia spectrum disorders. The researchers found that for schizophrenia spectrum disorders, the pre-pandemic monthly mean number of emergency department visits was 519.9, which increased to 558.4 after COVID-19 pandemic onset.


Metabolic Markers of Depression Identified - Researchers out of UCSD revealed a crucial link between cellular metabolism and major depressive disorder, particularly in treatment-refractory cases and suicidal ideation. This research found specific blood metabolites that differ in people with depression, providing new biomarkers for risk assessment.


Potentially harmful ‘trip-killers’ to cut short ‘bad’ drug trips, emerging concern -- The use of potentially harmful ‘trip-killers’ to cut short ‘bad drug trips’ after taking psychedelics, such as LSD or magic mushrooms, is an emerging concern, warn doctors in a research letter, published online in Emergency Medicine Journal. Their analysis of relevant threads on the social media platform Reddit, shows that drugs such as benzodiazepines (sedatives) and antipsychotics are the options most frequently recommended, but warnings about their potential side effects are rarely included, they highlight.

Human behavior guided by fast changes in dopamine levels -- Study measured dopamine levels while participants played computer game during deep brain stimulation surgery. The study shows that dopamine release in the human brain plays a crucial role in encoding both reward and punishment prediction errors. This means that dopamine is involved in the process of learning from both positive and negative experiences, allowing the brain to adjust and adapt its behavior based on the outcomes of these experiences.

Can brain stimulation benefit individuals with schizophrenia? Most people with schizophrenia have extensive impairment of memory, including prospective memory, which is the ability to remember to perform future activities. Results from a randomized clinical trial published in Neuropsychopharmacology Reports indicate that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a non-invasive method that uses alternating magnetic fields to induce an electric current in the underlying brain tissue, may help ameliorate certain aspects of prospective memory in individuals with schizophrenia.

The results of a recent study suggest that fostering cats can significantly decrease loneliness and boost mental health of older adults. Researchers at the University of Georgia and Brenau University recruited 29 adults over the age of 60 and living alone (and independently) for The Impact of Cat Fostering on Older Adult Well-Being and Loneliness: A Feasibility Study. After four months of fostering the cat, participants showed significant decreases in loneliness scores and improvement in mental health—and over 95% chose to adopt their cats.

Cat ownership linked to increased schizophrenia risk -- Researchers systematically reviewed and meta-analyzed research from 1980 to 2023 to investigate the relationship between cat ownership and schizophrenia-related disorders. Out of 1915 studies initially identified, 17 were included in the final analysis. The results showed some association, with cat owners having higher odds of developing schizophrenia-related disorders; the unadjusted pooled odds ratio was 2.35, and the adjusted was 2.24. The findings support an association between cat exposure and an increased risk of broadly defined schizophrenia-related disorders; however, the findings related to PLE as an outcome are mixed.

Gene Clusters Reveal Brain Link to Anxiety Disorders -- Researchers made a significant breakthrough in understanding the genetic basis of anxiety disorders by analyzing the spatiotemporal transcriptomic data of AD-associated genes in human brains. Researchers at The Kyoto University identified two distinct gene clusters with specific expression patterns in the cerebral nuclei, midbrain, and limbic system, areas previously linked to AD behaviors. These clusters correspond to glutamatergic and serotonergic/dopaminergic signaling, respectively, and their distinct expression during various developmental stages suggests a role in the development of AD symptoms. This research provides crucial insights into the genetic and neurophysiological underpinnings of ADs and their subtypes, opening pathways for targeted treatments.

Research finds peer support vital for those taking medication for severe mental illness -- Researchers at Aston Pharmacy School have found that people with severe mental illness could benefit from peer support to help them manage their medication and improve their health and quality of life. The study, which was set up to review the complexities of medication in severe mental illness and identify possible solutions, found that without additional support, the risk is that they won't take their medication.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has an open call for papers for their official scientific journal, Journal of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. The Journal of Mood & Anxiety Disorders welcomes original clinical, translational, and basic research as well as synthetic review articles covering neurobiology (genetics and neuroimaging), epidemiology, experimental psychopathology, pathophysiology and treatment (psychotherapeutic, neuromodulation, and pharmacologic) aspects of mood and anxiety disorders. They encourage original research submissions from basic neuroscientists and pharmacologists as well as all clinical investigators to establish a platform for translational advances and discussion. To advance this discussion, review papers focusing on current treatment advances as well as those providing innovative and cutting-edge reviews of key areas and issues guiding mood and anxiety disorder science will be prioritized. All submissions will be peer reviewed.

ASENT's 2024 Annual Meeting will be held from March 12-14, 2024 at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda, in Bethesda, MD. ASENT 2024 brings together senior leaders from healthcare payers, providers, employers, investors, fast-growing startups, big pharma, policymakers, and innovation centers to improve the process of bringing neurotherapeutics to market. Abstract Submission Deadline is January 22, 2024. For more information, click here.

Anxiety & Depression Association of America’s 2024 Annual Conference: Sex and Gender ~ Navigating the Biological and Social Constructs in Depression and Anxiety Disorders will be held April 11-14, 2024 in Boston, MA.

ACRP 2024 will be held May 3 - May 6 in Anaheim, CA. The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) is where clinical researchers go for inspiration, education, and connection.

American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP) 2024 Annual Meeting will be held May 28-31 in Miami Beach, FL. Registration is open, as is the Call for Submissions - Explore them all here.

NAMICon 2024 will engage, challenge and include you in dynamic discussions and inspiring moments. It will introduce you to new ideas and tools you can take with you. It’ll connect you with people who will go from strangers to community—all in the name of mental health awareness, education and advocacy. Join us June 4–6 in Denver for an unforgettable experience. Save the Date!

MHACon 2024 will be held September 19-21 in Washington D.C. and online. At this year's conference, explore ways to DISRUPT systemic barriers, REFORM harmful practices that prevent progress, and TRANSFORM the current landscape, ensuring everyone has equitable opportunity for optimal mental health and well-being.

While most of you are familiar with the STARR Coalition's mission statement, we want to start off 2024 with our mission front-of-mind. Help us focus on the mission and maintain momentum!

To create meaningful change by increasing COMMUNICATION, PARTNERSHIPS, and GOODWILL among stakeholders in the areas of mental health clinical research, advocacy, and treatment with emphasis on community and advocacy engagement, stigma reduction, and ensuring that research is widely recognized as a trusted care option.

Certified Sites: we’ve got a few new members, but we’re always looking to engage more sites. We are all stronger together, so please encourage your colleagues to get Certified and join the community!

We are always looking for Research Ambassadors – trial volunteers that are engaged on an elevated level. The objective is to help promote clinical research, but the Research Ambassadors themselves feel like a more important part of the research program, which supports retention.

The Auditory Hallucination Simulation has been getting a lot of attention, with various psychiatric and nursing college programs leasing it for their students. It’s one of the perks of your certification, so please use it with your staff.

The STARR Advocacy Board has been going strong – I don’t know if you saw the tip sheet for Navigating the Holiday Blues that they put out for the holidays, but we included it in the December Newsletter.

The Diversity Workgroup is on a break, but we’ve been working behind the scenes on a template for members to use in response to study requirements for a DEI Action Plan. It includes all of the elements listed on the FDA’s Guidance doc, so we’re excited to wrap that up so that you can have it by January.

Our Community of Practice for Community Mental Health Centers has been meeting monthly for the past 6 months. The objective is to educate the community mental health centers on the safety and benefits of including research in their care continuum.

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