Allen Azizian, adjunct assistant professor of psychology in USC College, has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar for 2009-10. One of three USC faculty members to receive this prestigious award, Azizian will spend a year in Armenia studying cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia.
Azizian, also a senior psychologist with the California Department of Mental Health’s Coalinga State Hospital, was notified of the award in April 2008, but postponed his research trip to celebrate the birth of his second child. He arrived in Yerevan, Armenia, in August 2009 and will remain there until August 2010.
At USC, Azizian’s research focuses on understanding the neuropsychological basis that underlies the self-medication hypothesis of substance abuse, which he claims is among the most influential theories of addiction.
His initial Fulbright grant proposal was along the same lines of his research here in Los Angeles — to develop and implement a substance abuse treatment program in Armenia. However, while teaching at his host school, Yerevan State Medical University (YSMU), he had to improvise.
“I was teaching an advanced course on addictive disorders,” Azizian said, “when I realized that the students’ level of enthusiasm on cognitive remediation exceeded my interests on addictive disorders.”
Cognitive remediation is a method of improving areas of the brain involved in basic day-to-day functioning. As it relates to Azizian’s research, cognitive impairment is found to be strongly correlated with functional recovery in schizophrenia. Previous research has found effective methods of treating the positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders and other gained abnormalities. But according to Azizian, these methods provide little or no gain in improving cognitive functions.
“In collaboration with colleagues, we put together a small clinical research program that employs cognitive testing as an outcome measure,” Azizian said. “Improving cognitive functions remains an elusive goal in treatment of schizophrenia, and computer-based cognitive remediation combined with pharmacology may offer greater benefit than any of these approaches used alone.”
The clinical research program Azizian and his team built will also provide his YSMU students with experience in neuropsychological assessment, treatment plan development, and data collection for conference presentation or publication in a scientific journal.
In addition to his research, Azizian counts his experiences with students and fellow faculty as a major highlight of his Fulbright trip thus far. His students, he says, have a remarkable commitment to the medical sciences: “There was one lecture that extended more than three hours — continued in the subway, then all the way to my door step, and finally to my dinner table!”
“Scholars and students who are committed to positive change will find the Fulbright experience in Armenia a lifetime opportunity,” Azizian continued. “Personally, I consider the Fulbright scholarship the most significant achievement of my career.”
Each year, the Fulbright Program awards approximately 7,500 new grants to academics and educators, allowing them to study, teach and conduct research in more than 155 countries worldwide.