Scientific investigation is a vibrant part of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Department of Psychiatry and a critical component of the Department’s overall goals. Priority areas of investigation include functional brain abnormalities of psychiatric disease, traumatic brain injury, immuno‐psychiatry, statistical genetics, reproductive clinical neuroscience, first‐into‐humans novel therapeutic clinical trials, psycho‐oncology, addiction health systems intervention, neurotherapeutics, digital mental health, geriatric psychiatric, neuropsychiatric disease, pain medicine, digital mental health, and integration of behavioral services into medical care locally and globally. Our investigative approaches provide a strong array of genotypic and phenotypic profiling of mental illness to produce a rich foundation for personalized psychiatric care. Complementing these approaches are sophisticated analytics and bioinformatics to identify mechanistic profiles to form the foundation for clinical diagnosis and therapeutic treatment. Together we are developing Precision Psychiatry initiatives incorporating genotypic and phenotypic bio-profiling approaches within the Department. These lines of investigation are critical in the advancement of modern psychiatric disease and treatment approaches to strengthen our potential to advance personalized psychiatric treatment.
Our department has over 60 faculty members conducting research, including several large laboratories and other smaller research groups, as well as individuals who conduct research as a smaller proportion of their time. Our investigators include psychiatrists, psychologists, statistical geneticists, neuroscientists, neurologists, radiologists, and engineers. Many faculty members are leaders on the local, regional, national and international levels, advancing our understanding of clinical neuroscience, behavioral genomics, and behavioral health.
To learn more about individual laboratories and investigators, follow links below.
As the Director of the Division of Addiction Psychiatry, Dr Suzuki leads the Division’s research on novel approaches to substance use disorder treatment both in specialty settings as well as in general medical settings, with a particular focus treating opioid use disorders with buprenorphine. Because the majority of patients with substance use disorders are not engaging in specialty addiction treatment, there is a critical need to investigate how to successfully identify and initiate treatment in general medical settings, such as hospitals, emergency rooms, and primary care clinics. In addition, a major focus of the group is to improve the treatment of medically hospitalized patients with opioid use disorders and improving linkage to ongoing outpatient treatment.
Behavioral health integration and related research are important areas of interest in the Department of Psychiatry. Specific lines of research include the development of a bidirectional model of integrated behavioral health services in an HIV clinic (Dr. Grimaldi), developing a unique and innovative model in the care of patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Dr. Nadkarni), psychiatric consultation in the Multiple Sclerosis Center (Dr. Safar) and epilepsy (Dr Baslet), and implementing a collaborative care model of behavioral healthcare delivery in all primary care practices throughout the BWH (Dr. Erb).
As the Research Director, Dr. David Wolfe oversees the research activities of the Depression Center, which studies the potential antidepressant effects of pharmacological agents with novel mechanisms. Other research in this area includes investigations of the role of inflammation in psychiatric illness. Our Center is affiliated with the National Network of Depression Centers (http://www.nndc.org/ )
Dr. Nancy Donovan investigates neuropsychiatric changes, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness, in relation to early Alzheimer’s disease brain changes and clinical progression through her affiliation with the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment (CART). CART is a multidisciplinary neuroscience research program led by Dr. Reisa Sperling and based primarily in the BWH Department of Neurology. CART lab members include neurologists, psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists, imaging specialists and others, all of whom are focused on Alzheimer’s disease. CART’s mission is two-fold: (1) to improve early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by developing more sensitive clinical evaluations, biological markers, and neuroimaging techniques to differentiate early AD from normal aging and (2) to assess promising new treatments for Alzheimer's disease through clinical trials research for symptomatic stages of AD and for secondary prevention trials.
The overall research interest of the Neuropsychiatry Division is to advance scientific knowledge in the field of neuropsychiatry. Each Division member has a scientific focus related to one or several sub-specialties within the field of Neuropsychiatry, including functional neuroloigcal disorders, psychogenic non-epileptiform seizures, neuro-infectous and neuro-inflammatory disorders, neuropsychiatric symptoms of dementia, neuropsychiatry of Parkinson’s, and neuropsychiatry of multiple sclerosis. The research on multiple sclerosis is focused on understanding the effects of multiple sclerosis on patients and their families and using that information to identify ways to improve the quality of their lives and the quality of their health and mental health care.
The Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory of Sex Differences in the Brain, directed by Dr. Jill Goldstein, integrates scientists from clinical and basic neuroscience perspectives to address questions of why men and women are at different risks for disorders of the brain, specifically psychoses, major depression and its comorbidity with cardiovascular risk and obesity/metabolic syndrome, and aging of memory circuitry. We take a lifespan approach to investigations from fetal development through brain aging and include multiple types of phenotyping, multi-modal brain imaging, physiology, and genetics. We are addressing the long-standing gap in psychiatric knowledge regarding the underlying neurobiology of sex differences in psychiatric disorders and translating this knowledge into the development of sex-dependent therapeutics.
Led by Dr. Hongtu Chen, the DCCR program focuses on two lines of research: (1) Adapting evidence-based practices in dementia care to settings of ethnic cultural backgrounds and/or in developing countries; examples include a music intervention delivered by a computer software for reducing agitation in Latino persons with dementia, and a project on community-based collaborative care for patients with dementia in Thailand. (2) Developing innovative interventions based on indigenous clinical insights and practice. Currently, they are testing a massage therapy protocol (based on traditional Chinese theory of meridian paths) to reduce agitation and depression for patients with dementia. Part of the work is performed in collaboration with the HMS Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
Under the leadership of Dr. David Ahern, the scientific focus of the lab is to develop, evaluate, and promote the emerging field of digital assessments and therapeutics in psychiatry and behavioral health. Specific areas of interest of staff include studies of mobile apps for assessment and treatment of mental health conditions, studies of the use of sensors, wearables, and remote monitoring devices in the context of mental and behavioral health care, and studies of the use of technology-enabled solutions for addressing mental and behavioral health comorbidity in the context of chronic medical illness.
Under the leadership of Dr. Bob Boland, our educators are interested in innovative approaches to pedagogy, particularly the use of technology as an educational tool. In addition to pedagogy, Dr. Boland has an interest in assessment methods and has created novel evaluation systems that provide real-time feedback to trainees and faculty. He is also interested in assessment at a programmatic level, and has worked with the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to develop and implement the Next Accreditation System, a modern approach to program evaluation.
Co-led by Drs. Emily Stern and David Silbersweig, the aim of the Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory (FNL) is to develop and apply new neuroimaging methods for the detection, localization, and characterization of final common pathways of major psychiatric disease expression, across DSM diagnostic categories, as a foundation for clinical advances. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies address schizophrenia, anxiety disorders (panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety in the wake of the World Trade Center disaster), mood disorders (major depression, geriatric depression, and bipolar disorder), personality disorders (borderline personality disorder), cognitive changes associated with chemotherapy, sex differences in brain function in health and disease, normal cognitive and emotional function, and methodological development. In addition, positron emission tomography (PET) is used to study specific pathophysiological mechanisms underlying neuropsychiatric disease.
An important goal of these studies is to develop and implement clinically-relevant, neurobiologically-based biomarkers to 1) more accurately diagnose and subtype mental disorders, based upon biological measures 2) guide treatment decisions, including prediction of treatment response, 3) identify neural circuitry associated with successful interventions and 4) identify new targets for novel treatment approaches, including pharmacologic, brain stimulation and cognitive behavioral treatments.
Education is a priority in the FNL, which has a long tradition of developing and implementing innovative educational modules and curricula in psychiatric functional neuroimaging. This has been done formally, in the context of an NIH R25 grant, as well as on a day-to-day basis, in the lab. We have trained students from high school through faculty levels, and have welcomed learners from around the world. Many trainees have gone on to significant positions in leading university, NIH or industry settings. There is also a commitment to the training of students from underrepresented minorities, and the lab has actively participated in outreach programs at both Cornell and Harvard. A summer program, introducing students to the field of psychiatric functional neuroimaging, is conducted regularly.
Under the leadership of Dr. Stephanie Smith, investigators in Global/Cross-Cultural Psychiatry are seeking innovative ways of delivering interventions to reduce psychological distress in caregivers of ethnic cultural backgrounds, and to reduce behavioral disturbance in elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Global Mental Health Investigators also focus on implementation research including innovating and evaluating public health approaches to clinical practice with non-specialist providers in resource limited settings, in collaboration with Partners In Health and the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, as well as scholarship around best practices in global psychiatric teaching and training.
Under the leadership of Dr. Olivia Okereke, the programmatic goals of this lab are: (1) to employ epidemiologic research methods to identify modifiable risk factors (e.g., diet, lifestyle) involved in healthy mental aging and (2) to translate and apply knowledge gained into effective strategies for large-scale prevention of major adverse mental aging outcomes, such as late-life depression and cognitive decline. One major project is an ongoing, large-scale study of nutritional supplement-based prevention of clinical depression and reduction of depressive symptoms among over 20,000 diverse older adults. Other current projects include studies addressing the interplay between mental illness, psychosocial stress and biological aging.
The Mood and Psychosis Research Program
The Mood and Psychosis Research Program is directed by Katherine E Burdick, PhD. Using comprehensive diagnostic, clinical, and cognitive neuroscience approaches, the program seeks to understand brain-based abnormalities in major psychiatric disorders through genetics, neuroimaging, and novel treatment strategies.
The Mood Trajectories and Outcomes Laboratory
The Mood and Stress Laboratory, led by Dr. Pamela Mahon, aims to better understand pathophysiology and trajectories of mood disorders, utilizing approaches such as neuroimaging, genomics, and stress neuroendocrinology. Specific goals include developing biomarkers to predict treatment response and characterizing neurobiological mechanisms leading to different illness trajectories.
Under the leadership of Dr.Tim Mariano, research in this area is focused on exploring the therapeutic uses of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) and other emerging forms of noninvasive neuromodulation. Novel clinical uses for existing approaches such as TMS are also being investigated, both alone and in combination with other treatment modalities. Other interests include understanding the mechanisms of action of neuromodulation on cognition and behavior at the neural systems level, specifically at the level of neural networks.
Under the leadership of Dr. Robert Jamison, the Pain Research Center’s work concentrates on studying psychophysical pain testing (e.g. quantitative sensory testing), innovative pain assessments tools (such as the use of a smartphone app to monitor pain and offer remote CBT), and the role of psychiatric factors in pain treatment response (i.e., the impact of depression, anxiety and catastrophizing on treatment outcome). This program is multidisciplinary and includes psychologists, psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and surgeons with a primary focus on pain.
The Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory (PNL) in the Departments of Psychiatry at BWH was founded in 2005, by Drs. Martha Shenton, Marek Kubicki, and Sylvain Bouix, Director and Associate Directors, respectively. Under Dr. Shenton’s leadership, the main mission of this laboratory is to increase our understanding of brain abnormalities and their role in neuropsychiatric disorders using advanced, state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques. The research conducted in the PNL includes an interdisciplinary team of junior faculty, post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, who are investigating the role of brain abnormalities in schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), velocardiofacial syndrome, and William’s syndrome. Detecting brain changes is the first step towards targeting new treatments that are more effective at ameliorating symptoms and ultimately may lead to prevention. The laboratory is funded through grant support from private foundations, NIMH, NINDS, VA Merit Awards, and from the Department of Defense. Trainees are encouraged to join our multidisciplinary team of psychiatrists, neuroscientists, computer scientists, neuroradiologists, and psychologists.
Under the Psychosomatics division leadership of Dr. David Gitlin, Psychosomatics research includes investigations into somatization and the somatoform disorders, cognitive behavioral interventions to palliate the somatic symptoms of medical illness, and the relationship between psychosocial factors and cardiac outcomes in patients undergoing heart surgery or living with cardiac disorders. Research within Psychosomatics has also evaluated novel models of psychiatric care delivery, including proactive models of psychiatric consultation in the Intensive Care Unit setting, with a focus on decreasing ICU and hospital length of stay and improving clinical outcomes around delirium.
Under the leadership of Dr. Ilana Braun, the Adult Psychosocial Oncology division is based at BWH and DFCI, where it is part of the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care (POPC). Specific areas of research interest include improving communication skills of clinicians in the context of serious illness care, investigating cancer survivorship, neuropsychological symptom responses to cancer and cancer therapy, and sexual health, exploring the medical utility of marijuana and its derivatives in cancer, and improving coping with cancer for young adults.
Led by Dr. Shaun Purcell, the Purcell Lab is dedicated to understanding the links between sleep, behavior, cognition and psychiatric disease, using human genetic and computational approaches. Specific research goals are to better characterize individual differences in sleep architecture, to investigate the genetic basis of this variation, and its relation to behavioral outcomes and the expression of risk for psychiatric disease.
Under the leadership of Dr. David Kroll, the Quality Improvement Division is committed to quality improvement in all divisions. We recently formed a new interdisciplinary Process Improvement Team, which oversees the development and implementation of QI projects across sites and monitors events related to patient safety. Ongoing projects include adoption of lean methodology to improve patient care throughout the illness cycle, expansion of alternative outpatient visit strategies such as telepsychiatry and walk-in clinics, refinement of protocols for common psychiatric conditions, standardization of outcomes measurement and safety reporting across sites, and implementation of new technologies into clinical practice.
As a member of the HMS Division of Sleep Medicine, Dr. Janis Anderson has conducted clinical translational research since 1985 into the physiological characteristics and treatment responses of Seasonal Affective Disorders. Collaborations with the HMS Division of Sleep Medicine involve the role of circadian and sleep processes in SAD, as well as the evaluation of different light-emitting devices, wavelengths, and doses. The focus is developing an algorithm to guide selection of light parameters that optimize effectiveness of light treatment for SAD patients. Significant collaborations include the Analytic Modeling Unit of the Division of Sleep Medicine.
Dr. Jacob Taylor works with scientists at the Stanley Center to design instruments for collecting clinical and other phenotypic data for large-scale psychiatric genetic studies. This work involves building an evidence base on the specific cognitive and behavioral traits that are likely to be highest yield from the standpoint of discovery of genetic risk factors for psychopathology. The broad goal of this work is to develop a framework for how to use new knowledge about the genetic architecture of psychiatric illnesses and specific genetic risk factors to iteratively improve the phenotyping instruments for these studies.
Under the leadership of Dr. Lindy Barrett, The Barrett laboratory is based at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research in the Broad institute and the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology at Harvard University, and affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry at BWH. As part of the Stem Cell Program at the Stanley Center, we are focused on understanding the relationship between neuropsychiatric disease associated genetic variants and neuronal function. In order to probe basic and disease mechanisms, we generate and study human brain cell types with defined genetic characteristics in vitro, utilizing a combination of human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) biology, CRISPR-Cas9 genome-engineering technology and directed differentiation approaches.
The Women’s Hormones and Aging Research Program (WHARP) is a clinical and translational research group, led by Dr. Hadine Joffe and based in the Department of Psychiatry at BWH and is affiliated with the DFCI Division of Breast Oncology and the DFCI Division of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care. WHARP is a clinical reproductive neuroscience program with a broad goal of advancing our understanding and treatment of neuropsychological symptoms resulting from changes in female reproductive hormones in the brain. These include affective disturbance, sleep disruption, hot flashes, fatigue, cognitive performance, and more recently, changes in cardiovascular metabolism, appetite, and eating behaviors. We study the biological basis of these symptoms and their interactions, as well as strategies for optimizing treatment in healthy women during the menopause transition and with breast cancer. Treatment approaches include experimental paradigms, observational studies, as well as clinical trials involving pharmacological and behavioral interventions key neuropsychological symptom responses to estrogen withdrawal that have an important impact on quality of life and adherence to anti-estrogen therapies used for breast cancer. Our research psychiatrists work in close collaboration with behavioral interventionists, sleep investigators, endocrinologists, and breast oncologists. The laboratory is comprised of and funded through grant support from the NIH, pharmaceutical companies, and non-profit agencies. Psychiatry residents, fellows, psychologists, and research trainees at all levels are integrated into our program.
Women’s Mental Health Division Research
Faculty in the Women’s Mental Health Division conducts research on psychological symptoms, disorders, and behavior in women of reproductive potential and during the antenatal and postnatal period. Researchers aim to improve understanding of how genetics, inflammatory cytokines, reproductive hormones, ethical considerations, obstetric and neonatal complications, and psychosocial factors are associated with outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and infertility in women. Some perinatal depression studies are conducted in collaboration with local investigators: the BWH Maternal Fetal Medicine Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology, focusing on high-risk obstetrical conditions that have important mental health consequences in pregnant and postpartum women, and the BWH Pediatric Newborn Medicine Research Program as well as in collaboration with national consortia: the Perinatal Psychiatry Genetics Consortium (PACT), and the National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC). These studies inform more effective screening and treatment options in this at-risk population.
Under the leadership of Dr. Tracey Young-Pearce in the BWH Department of Neurology, the Young-Pearse lab focuses on the identification of the mechanistic causes of neurodegenerative and developmental disorders of the nervous system, with the ultimate goal of identifying novel targets for therapeutic interventions for these diseases. We are using human stem cells differentiated to cell types found in the brain in order to elucidate the underlying causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia. In addition, we use this cellular system to test newly identified potential targets for therapeutic interventions.
This page was last modified on 4/3/2017