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Psychiatry Research

The Department of Psychiatry at the Brigham and Women's Hospital is a major teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, where we are dedicated to providing the highest level of care for our patients and their families, informed by the innovative research being conducted by our renowned faculty.

One of the most important aspects of our work is academic research, which serves to advance our understanding of psychiatric disease and to innovate on novel therapies. Our research also forms an empirical foundation to propel excellence in clinical care and as a platform for a diverse range of training opportunities. Psychiatric investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital are conducting cutting-edge research across all major psychiatric diagnoses, incorporating behavioral, cognitive, and biological measures with the goal of advancing precision/personalized medicine. Our research team is constantly growing, and our large portfolio encompasses a range of approaches centered around the following three themes:

Neurocircuitry, precision psychiatry, and longitudinal phenotypic profiling

Psychiatric illnesses are complex, highly heterogeneous, and temporally dynamic. Historical approaches to diagnosis have relied heavily on observable signs and self-reported symptoms rather than neurobiological insights, which has limited our ability to optimize treatment for individual patients. Our investigators are conducting cutting-edge research into new ways of classifying patients with psychiatric illness using brain-based measures (cognition, neuroimaging, genetics and more) to identify subgroups with clinically and biologically distinct profiles. Longitudinal tracking of our patients provides a more complete picture of the illnesses and their trajectory. We are applying novel methods for passive and remote data collection to allow for continuous capture of information, which is critical in the complex and dynamic illnesses that we study.

Together, these approaches help to advance personalized approaches to care – to identify the right treatment for the right patient to be applied at the right time. This thematic line of research includes research laboratories, including the Psychiatric Neuroimaging Laboratory, Mood and Psychosis Research Program, Mood Trajectories and Outcomes Laboratory, Sleep Epidemiology, Genetics and Neurophysiology Laboratory, Digital Health and Informatics Research Program, and the Neuropsychiatry of Aging Research Group.

Translational and interventional psychiatry

Much of the work being done in our department is focused on the identification of clinical, biological, and brain-based risk factors for the development of psychiatric illness and its recurrence. This search for etiologic mechanisms is focused on identifying modifiable risk factors that can translate into potential treatment targets for interventions that will optimize outcomes in every single patient suffering from mental illness. This translational approach aims to inform and guide our early stage, novel clinical trials, which include behavioral, pharmacologic, and interventions that probe specific neural mechanisms. The implementation of empirically-based treatment is practiced in our clinics and emphasized across our training programs and is supported in part by our Translational Research Infrastructure Program. This thematic line of research includes several research laboratories, including the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics, Translational Clinical Trials Lab, the Division of Addiction Psychiatry, and the Women's Hormones and Aging Research Program.

Integration of behavioral health across medicine and the broader community

Our department benefits from being situated in a world-class general medical hospital and we are surrounded by, and collaborate with, institutions that specialize in cancer, neurology, pediatric care, and more in order to optimize the health of that patient population. Psychiatry reaches beyond those who suffer from a diagnosed mental illness to more broadly manage health challenges across the lifespan within our community. One of the great strengths of our department is the work we do in this expanded area of behavioral health, with studies focused on development, stress, sleep, cognition, and health issues that are unique to specific populations. To capture this broad scope, our investigators use a wide range of methodologic tools including, but not limited to neuroimaging, neurophysiology, remote tracking using app-based monitoring, genetics, and immune profiling.

Some of the important work being done is focused specifically on understanding cultural and social determinants of health and mental health and all of our work is done with an eye toward promoting diversity and reducing stigma. This thematic line of research includes several research laboratories, including those working in the Developmental Risk and Cultural Resilience Laboratory, the Trauma Informed Care Initiative, and the Divisions of Addiction Psychiatry, Neuropsychiatry, and Psychosocial Oncology. There is also broad work in global mental health and in the psychiatry, law and society program.

Training and mentorship

Finally, our department places an enormous value on teaching and mentoring our trainees, as we know that they represent the future of this field. Psychiatry residents, psychology residents, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scholars are integrated with the ongoing research and are active participants in our weekly departmental research meetings. We are proud to have developed and maintained a collaborative, supportive, and welcoming research community that cuts across academic rank and scientific discipline.

Research fellowships and postdoctoral experiences are offered within many of our programs.

Learn more about our researchers, programs and laboratories:

For questions about research at the Brigham, please contact kburdick1@bwh.harvard.edu or dpashos@bwh.harvard.edu.

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