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Translational & Clinical Research

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is an emerging leader in psychiatric research. Faculty members are dedicated to exploring the psychological and neurobiological underpinnings of human behavior and mental disorders in addition to developing improved treatments and treatment-delivery systems using the most advanced research methods and technologies available.

Collaboration is pivotal to the department’s success, with translational teams of basic and clinical scientists working together to rapidly bring breakthroughs from the lab to the clinic. Mentorship is a departmental priority, as faculty members train the next generation of leaders in the field.

Areas of Research

Childhood Disorders & Developmental Neuroscience

The Center for Youth Mental Health — co-led by Steve Strakowski, M.D., and Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., LMSW — conducts research to support adolescents and young adults at risk for or in the early stages of severe mental illness. The center partners with community partners to design and test new models of mental health care and close gaps in treatment during the transition to adulthood.

IMProving Access to Collaborative Treatment (IMPACT) Autism Research Lab, directed by Jeffrey D. Shahidullah, Ph.D., is a family-centered research hub, joining clinical and academic programs to develop and disseminate equitable models to improve early detection and access to care for children with autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

The Institute for Early Life Adversity Research, directed by Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., explores the developmental sequelae of childhood maltreatment and the biological mechanisms whereby these effects increase the risk for mood, anxiety, substance use and certain medical disorders.

The Interpersonal Impact of Trauma Lab, directed by Suzannah Creech, Ph.D., explores the intergenerational transmission of trauma from parents to children including developing and testing interventions to address the impact of parental experiences of trauma on children’s outcomes.

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., uses structural and functional brain imaging and behavioral techniques to examine the developmental mechanisms underlying the emergence of mood and substance use disorders during the transition from adolescence to early adulthood.

The Neural Circuits and Behavioral Development Lab investigates how stress throughout the lifespan affects neural circuit function and leads to behaviors associated with psychiatric disease. Previously, the lab has identified specific pathways from the ventral hippocampus associated with discrete symptoms of schizophrenia. Using cutting edge techniques, such as eGRASP and fiber photometry, the lab has characterized the anatomy and function of these circuits in the healthy brain. Currently, our the Donegan Lab is examining the effect of chronic adult stress on these ventral hippocampal circuits.

Women’s Reproductive Mental Health of Texas, directed by Jeff Newport, M.D., M.S., examines the earliest of childhood adversity, the potentially harmful effects of exposure to both maternal mental illness and maternal psychiatric medications during pregnancy and infancy.

Trauma

The Healthcare Organization Science Lab, directed by Justin Benzer, Ph.D., studies the implementation of trauma-focused treatment models in collaboration with the Interpersonal Impact of Trauma Lab, directed by Suzannah Creech, Ph.D.

The Institute for Early Life Adversity Research, directed by Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., explores the mental health and medical consequences of childhood trauma as well as optimal treatments for trauma-related disorders using brain imaging, genomics and epigenetics, neuroendocrine and inflammatory markers to elucidate the mechanisms of resilience and vulnerability.

The Interpersonal Impact of Trauma Lab, directed by Suzannah Creech, Ph.D., seeks to understand the role of social and interpersonal relationships as mechanisms for improving functional and treatment outcomes in trauma-exposed populations, including an emphasis on prevention of interpersonal violence and its consequences.

The Learning, Memory, and Emotion Lab, directed by Joseph Dunsmoor, Ph.D., examines perceptual and conceptual generalization following emotional experiences and how broad over-generalization of fear contributes to the pathophysiology of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., uses neuroimaging to examine long-lasting neural consequences following early life stress, including childhood maltreatment and bullying victimization, and relations with development of mood and substance use disorders.

The NeuroTap Lab, directed by Josh Cisler, Ph.D., aims to understand the neurocircuitry that confers risk for psychopathology following traumatic event exposure through functional brain imaging and behavioral measures. The lab’s research seeks to refine and expand neurocircuitry models to encompass important observations that are not well explained by current models.

The Psychiatry Clinical Trials Program seeks to develop innovative treatments for a wide array of mental illnesses. The program is committed to providing excellent care to patients while conducting groundbreaking research using innovative treatments for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Research treatments include novel medications, psychotherapies, brain stimulation and implantable devices.

The Translational and Clinical Neuroscience (TrAC Neuro) Lab, directed by Greg Fonzo, Ph.D., seeks to understand the pathophysiological brain mechanisms and information-processing biases underlying affective disturbances in common trauma-related mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Women’s Reproductive Mental Health of Texas, directed by Jeff Newport, M.D., M.S., examines the enduring psychological and neurobiological impact of early trauma and their impact upon maternal behavior with a view to elucidating intergenerational effects of trauma.

Addiction

The Healthcare Organization Science Lab, directed by Justin Benzer, Ph.D., studies the implementation of addiction treatment models with specific attention on the organizational opportunities and constraints for integrating treatment teams across the continuum of care.

The Molecular Engineering, Design and Discovery Lab, directed by Lief Fenno, M.D., Ph.D., works at the intersection of neuroscience, bioengineering and psychiatry to design novel molecular reagents for precise neurocircuit modulation and uncovers psychiatric disease-relevant circuit-level activity patterns and properties with translational potential.

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., conducts longitudinal studies using clinical/behavioral phenotyping, neuroimaging and genetic techniques to investigate initiation of substance use, emergence of substance misuse and development of addiction in typically developing youth and those with mood disorders.

Neuroimaging & Translational Neuroscience

The Bipolar Disorder Center, directed by Jorge Almeida, M.D., Ph.D., uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate biomarkers of bipolar disorder, using standard neuroimaging data analysis along with effective connectivity and pattern recognition analysis.

The Center for Youth Mental Health, directed by Steve Strakowski, M.D., is also investigating, in collaboration with the Bipolar Disorder Center, the neurobiology of the onset of bipolar illness, studying at-risk and early course individuals with MRI techniques.

The Institute for Early Life Adversity Research, directed by Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., conducts functional and structural brain imaging studies to elucidate the neurobiological changes wrought by exposure to childhood traumatic experiences and the role these alterations play in the heightened vulnerability to subsequent illness.

The Learning, Memory, and Emotion Lab, directed by Joseph Dunsmoor, Ph.D., focuses on emotion and cognition interactions governing how we learn about and remember important events. Studies utilize Pavlovian conditioning, categorization, decision-making and episodic memory in conjunction with neuroimaging, psychophysiology and immersive virtual reality tools

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., conducts longitudinal structural and functional brain imaging studies in conjunction with behavioral techniques to elucidate the pathogenesis of mood and substance use disorders (and interactions between these conditions).

The Motivation and Emotion Science Lab, directed by Rex Wright, Ph.D., seeks to understand thought, feeling and physiologic dynamics of human behavior. Studies involve issues of decision making, impulse and energy mobilization, particularly that associated with cardiovascular adjustment. Sample focuses include fatigue, trauma, restraint, chronotype, dementia, achievement striving and love.

The Translational and Clinical Neuroscience (TrAC Neuro) Lab, directed by Greg Fonzo, Ph.D., conducts functional brain-imaging studies to elucidate both the effects of stress and the mechanisms by which psychiatric treatments promote a return to health with a view to designing novel precision medicine interventions informed by neural circuitry.

Psychopharmacology

Psychedelics have shown great promise in improving the lives of people with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related disorders, but there is remarkably limited evidence-based research on psychedelic therapy’s effectiveness, long-term impact and biological predictors of response and mechanisms of action.

With rigorous scientific validation, this emerging treatment can become widely accepted and offer long-term relief. Greg Fonzo, Ph.D., and Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., are leading efforts at Dell Med to prove and optimize the efficacy of psychedelics for anxiety and depression; identify neurobiological mechanisms of action; and determine which individuals are best suited to respond well to treatment, with special focus on veterans and those who have experienced childhood trauma.

The Molecular Engineering, Design and Discovery Lab, directed by Lief Fenno, M.D., Ph.D., works at the intersection of neuroscience, bioengineering and psychiatry to design novel molecular reagents for precise neurocircuit modulation and uncovers psychiatric disease-relevant circuit-level activity patterns and properties with translational potential.

The Psychiatry Clinical Trials Program seeks to develop innovative treatments for a wide array of mental illnesses. The program is committed to providing excellent care to patients while conducting groundbreaking research using innovative treatments for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Research treatments include novel medications, psychotherapies, brain stimulation and implantable devices.

Women’s Reproductive Mental Health of Texas, directed by Jeff Newport, M.D., M.S., is a leader in examining the pharmacokinetic profiles and reproductive safety of psychiatric medications during pregnancy and lactation, including the physicochemical and genetic determinants of altered medication clearance during gestation, transplacental passage, breast milk excretion of medications.

Genetics, Genomics & Epigenetics

The Institute for Early Life Adversity Research, directed by Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., explores genomic and epigenetic processes altered by exposure to traumatic childhood experiences and how these may convey either resilience or vulnerability to medical and mental illness.

The Laboratory of Affective Neurogenetics, directed by Mbemba Jabbi, Ph.D., investigates genetic influence on the structure and function of brain regions critical for perception, cognition and higher-order adaptive processing of emotion-laden experiences.

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., investigates genetic and familial influence on neural development and associations with the onset and disease course in mood disorders and substance use disorders.

Women’s Reproductive Mental Health of Texas, directed by Jeff Newport, M.D., M.S., examines the epigenetic and genomic effects of intrauterine exposure to both maternal psychiatric illness and maternal psychotropic medication and how these fetal exposures shape a child’s subsequent risk to illness.

Molecular Neuroscience

The Molecular Engineering, Design and Discovery Lab, directed by Lief Fenno, M.D., Ph.D., works at the intersection of neuroscience, bioengineering and psychiatry to design novel molecular reagents for precise neurocircuit modulation and uncovers psychiatric disease-relevant circuit-level activity patterns and properties with translational potential.

Mood Disorders

The Bipolar Disorder Center, directed by Jorge Almeida, M.D., Ph.D., utilizes a multi-disciplinary approach to the treatment of bipolar disorder, conducting clinical trials of pharmacotherapies, psychotherapies and other interventions for those with bipolar disorder, including those with co-morbid disorders such as substance abuse.

Psychedelics have shown great promise in improving the lives of people with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other stress-related disorders, but there is remarkably limited evidence-based research on psychedelic therapy’s effectiveness, long-term impact and biological predictors of response and mechanisms of action.

With rigorous scientific validation, this emerging treatment can become widely accepted and offer long-term relief. Greg Fonzo, Ph.D., and Charles Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., are leading efforts at Dell Med to prove and optimize the efficacy of psychedelics for anxiety and depression; identify neurobiological mechanisms of action; and determine which individuals are best suited to respond well to treatment, with special focus on veterans and those who have experienced childhood trauma.

The Healthcare Organization Science Lab, directed by Justin Benzer, Ph.D., conducts quantitative and qualitative studies to determine how organizational factors may impact access and quality of mental health care in the primary care setting, with a specific emphasis on depression care.

The Laboratory of Affective Neurogenetics, directed by Mbemba Jabbi, Ph.D., seeks to better understand the brain abnormalities underlying mood symptoms and suicide risk in order to guide new treatment and prevention strategies.

The Mood Addiction Interaction Neuroscience (MAIN) Lab, directed by Elizabeth Lippard, Ph.D., investigates risk (familial studies), onset and early illness course in bipolar disorder, with an emphasis on individual differences (e.g., neural and behavioral) that contribute to disease heterogeneity

The Neural Circuits and Behavioral Development Lab investigates how stress throughout the lifespan affects neural circuit function and leads to behaviors associated with psychiatric disease. Previously, the lab has identified specific pathways from the ventral hippocampus associated with discrete symptoms of schizophrenia. Using cutting edge techniques, such as eGRASP and fiber photometry, the lab has characterized the anatomy and function of these circuits in the healthy brain. Currently, our the Donegan Lab is examining the effect of chronic adult stress on these ventral hippocampal circuits.

The Psychiatry Clinical Trials Program seeks to develop innovative treatments for a wide array of mental illnesses. The program is committed to providing excellent care to patients while conducting groundbreaking research using innovative treatments for depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Research treatments include novel medications, psychotherapies, brain stimulation and implantable devices.

Women’s Reproductive Mental Health of Texas, directed by Jeff Newport, M.D., M.S., studies the perinatal course of depressive and bipolar disorders, focusing on identifying predictors of vulnerability and resilience that will help inform clinical decision-making during pregnancy and lactation.

Health Services & Implementation Science

The Healthcare Organization Science Lab, directed by Justin Benzer, Ph.D., applies concepts from organizational psychology and health care management to identify and implement solutions to gaps in access and quality of mental health care.

The Interpersonal Impact of Trauma Lab, directed by Suzannah Creech, Ph.D., conducts basic and applied health services and implementation science research exploring the role of interpersonal and family factors in mental health treatment and illness trajectories after trauma, including a national dissemination of a trauma-informed treatment to address intimate partner violence.

Deborah Cohen, Ph.D., LMSW, examines system, program and practice barriers to effective mental health care delivery focused on improving access, engagement and outcomes for youth with emerging serious mental illnesses.