June 10, 2022—(BRONX, NY)—Last month, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System celebrated the official opening of the Psychiatry Research Institute at Montefiore Einstein (PRIME) with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new offices and research space on the Einstein campus along with a symposium and poster session featuring research by its basic, translational, and clinical experts.
The grand opening on May 26, delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, comes at a time when society has a great awareness of the “profound impact of mental health conditions and the need for new treatments and equitable access” to care, said Jonathan Alpert, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Einstein and Montefiore.
“If we've learned anything from the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from the pandemics of racism and hate, it’s the urgency of our institute’s mission to advance knowledge and treatment discovery related to mental illness, addiction, and behavioral health,” added Dr. Alpert. “PRIME lives within an academic medical center known for its commitment to rigorous science and to social justice, and we are dedicated to bringing discovery and hope to those who need it most.” Dr. Alpert is also professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, and of pediatrics, and the Dorothy and Marty Silverman Chair in Psychiatry at Einstein.
Joining Dr. Alpert in the ceremony near the entrance of PRIME’s offices on the fourth floor of the Van Etten building were: Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., the Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean at Einstein and executive vice president and chief academic officer of Montefiore Medicine; Jelena Radulovic, M.D., Ph.D., and Vilma Gabbay, M.D., M.S., co-directors of PRIME; Salimah Velji, M.P.H., M.B.A., executive unified administrator of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences; and Marina Vasilyeva, director of grants and program development of PRIME.
Joining Forces for Scientific Discovery
The exceptional leadership of PRIME ensures its enormous promise and incredibly bright future,” said Dr. Tomaselli, praising the combined strengths of PRIME’s neuroscience and psychiatry experts. “These synergies across departments are really essential to understand and to treat complex diseases and conditions. PRIME has already established itself as a rich environment for innovation that's built on state-of-the-art approaches and leveraging collaborations amongst psychiatry, behavioral sciences, but also neurology, neuroscience and neurosurgery, medicine, family and social medicine, pediatrics, and more.”
Dr. Radulovic, who is also professor in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience, of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and the Sylvia and Robert S. Olnick Chair in Neuroscience at Einstein, noted that PRIME has already held numerous meetings, case report presentations, and Grand Rounds presentations in which basic, translational, and clinical researchers have shared findings and discussed the challenging questions they are pursuing.
“We can study circuits both in humans and in animals, we can study pharmacology in both, we can look at different brain oscillations and network activities,” said Dr. Radulovic. “It has become much easier to devise programs that join forces,” uniting the preclinical and clinical research to advance the field.
Dr. Gabbay, who is also professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and in the Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience at Einstein, noted along with the translational laboratory programs in Neuroscience that there are five additional clinically oriented research centers or programs within PRIME: the Autism and Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Program; the Center for Health Equity; the Mood and Anxiety Disorder Program; the Laboratory of Behavioral Genetics; and the Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Research Program.
Several researchers also have received early career funding from the National Institutes of Health, including Benjamin Ely, Ph.D., for a study on the development of the habenula (a part of the brain that regulates emotion-related behaviors); Aaron Breslow, Ph.D., for research on mental health service disparities among transgender and nonbinary adults, and Tram N. B. Nguyen, B.S., for investigations on brain function in adolescents with depression who use cannabis. In addition, Rachel Ross, M.D., Ph.D., received a prestigious grant from the Whitehall Foundation to study circuits linking eating behavior and higher psychological functions. Recent NIH grant awards to PRIME and collaborating programs that involve PRIME researchers total more than $30 million.
“This is just the beginning; we’re going to expand, and the journey has been very exciting,” said Dr. Gabbay.
Keynote on Bipolar Disorder
Andrew Nierenberg, M.D. ‘80, delivered a keynote address, “Wonder and Amazement about the Course, Psychobiology, and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder,” in LeFrak Auditorium. Dr. Nierenberg is the Thomas P. Hackett, MD, Endowed Chair in Psychiatry and director of the Dauten Family Center for Bipolar Treatment Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital, and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. His overview of the disorder included numerous questions under investigation, including how the body’s energy and brain networks are dysregulated in people with bipolar disorder and how to treat those with depression.
“What is really remarkable is how few treatments there are for bipolar depression,” said Dr. Nierenberg, adding that bipolar disease is “a total body disease” not just a brain disease. “People die, and they die earlier, mostly from cardiovascular disorders and from cancer. There is something going on that is affecting people’s survival.”
Despite its prevalence (at least 2% of the population), Dr. Nierenberg said bipolar disorder is an “orphan disorder” which receives far less funding for research than other mental illnesses, such as depression. He noted that it is highly heritable but genetic studies have not been able to pinpoint the genes and variants to understand the precise mechanisms responsible for the disorder. “This is where the edge is going, of trying to figure out the genetic architecture, the basic psychobiology to figure out if there's any way we can get better treatments based on the science rather than just serendipity.”
Dr. Alpert presented Dr. Nierenberg with PRIME’s inaugural Distinguished Scientist Award. Following the keynote address, guests visited with PRIME researchers and others at Einstein involved in clinical and translational work relevant to psychiatric and behavioral conditions who answered questions about their studies and posters displayed in the Michael F. Price Center for Genetic and Translational Medicine/Harold and Muriel Block Research Pavilion.
Posted on: Friday, June 10, 2022