In this month’s newsletter, we’re showcasing some of the people and programs that advance our research mission. With a research portfolio of more than $40 million/year, our department was among the top five departments in research funding in the entire University in FY 2016 and in the top 10 in FY 2017. More than 100 of our faculty were recipients of one or more externally funded research grants last year. Our discoveries range from the laboratories of our neuroscientists to large-scale population-health research projects and they are shaping the future of mental health and mental health care around the world. Even in challenging financial times, we continue to invest in recruiting top talent, funding and supporting research pilot projects, training and mentoring the next generation of researchers, and developing faculty and staff who are engaged in our research mission.
On October 5, more than one hundred faculty members and trainees attended the 2nd Annual Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Research Retreat and contributed to engaging discussions about the opportunities and challenges for our research training and mentorship programs. We also heard pitches from 15 teams of investigators competing for pilot funding in the area of population health. On November 3, more than 250 people attended The Benefit, an event that raised money to support a new UW Medicine Behavioral Health Institute at Harborview Medical Center that will support new clinical services, training, research and research training in state-of-the art methods to care for youth and young adults with a First Episode of Psychosis and other high risk populations. These two recent events, along with the incredible contributions that our research faculty and staff make every day, demonstrate our department’s commitment to discoveries that can improve the care and the health of individuals living with mental health and substance use disorders in Washington State and beyond. I am proud of our accomplishments in research and I am committed to the continuing success of our research programs and to developing the next generation of mental health researchers in our department.
Our researchers study the basic science of emotions and behaviors such as addiction, genetic factors associated with autism, the effect of air pollution on the development of dementia, the most effective therapies for depression and anxiety, strategies for suicide prevention, strategies for treating bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder in rural populations, mobile health interventions for people with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses, and much, much more. This impressive breadth of research receives support from many sources. Our largest source of research funding is the federal government, with grants and contracts from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The second largest source of research funding comes from public and private philanthropic organizations like Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) and the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.
The department also invests in our research mission. In fiscal year 2017, the department committed over $2.7 million across multiple years to support new research activities that could not be charged to research grants and contracts. These include salary, health benefits, and tuition for faculty, trainees and fellows that exceed the sponsor’s cap. It also includes salary support for the time that eligible faculty spend writing new grant proposals, matching support for Population Health Initiative pilots as well as start-up and pilot-funding for new research initiatives. The two primary sources of these funds are indirect costs (we receive about 18% of total indirect costs associated with research grants and contracts) and charitable gifts.
Charitable gifts are one of our most valuable sources of funding. These gifts create opportunities for researchers to conduct preliminary pilot studies. Such proof-of-concept studies are often required to successfully compete for full-scale research grants but rarely funded by those grant-making entities. Investment in these preliminary studies can determine whether or not a grant proposal is funded. Researchers in our department submitted about 150 new grant proposals per year over the past two years. Both years represent an increase from prior years when the high water mark was 130. In the past two years about 60 proposals received funding each year, up from an average of 40 per year in the prior three years. This is a 40% success rate in the past two years. For context, the 2016 success rate of proposals submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health was 23%, 19% for the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, and 15% for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Below is a sampling of the 40 new research grants received by the department in the past. Although we’re listing specific studies and researchers to highlight the diversity of topics and funders, it’s the collective body of our research that is truly remarkable.
Solving the Nation’s Trauma Care System
The nation’s trauma care system includes trauma center hospitals and emergency departments where over 30 million Americans receive care after traumatic injuries each year. Unlike other areas of clinical medicine, acute post-injury interventions have yet to comprehensively integrate patient peer interventionists. This trial, led by Douglas Zatzick, MD, will evaluate two approaches to the delivery of transitional care for injured patients receiving emergency care: 1) a multidisciplinary team collaborative care approach that integrates front-line trauma center staff with peer (non-medical) interventionists, 2) trauma surgical team notification of patient emotional distress. Funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
Using Social Media to Predict Suicide in High Schoolers
This study examines the extent to which student-generated social media data provide the information needed to accurately predict suicide risk in high schoolers, compared to more traditional paper-and-pencil screening approaches. Led by Molly Adrian, PhD, and Aaron Lyon, PhD, the Assessment of Suicide and Self-injury to Enhance School Safety project is adapting an existing software platform originally used to improve identification of suicide risk in veterans. Funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Tackling Lewy Body Dementia Debby Tsuang, MD, leads the UW site for two consortium projects attempting to identify biomarkers in Lewy Body Dementia (LBD). These two studies will collect cerebrospinal fluid, DNA, RNA, and plasma biomarkers to differentiate people with Lewy Body Dementias from other types of dementia. Funded by the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center and the National Institutes of Health.
Examining the Effect of Marijuana on PTSD Treatment
A substantial number of people develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following trauma exposure, and many use marijuana to help manage their symptoms. The co-occurrence of PTSD and marijuana use in trauma survivors is predictive of poorer outcomes and increased drop out from PTSD treatment. A study led by Michele Bedard-Gilligan, PhD, is evaluating if and how marijuana use affects the treatment of PTSD by examining the relationship between marijuana and fear extinction in individuals with pathological fear as a result of trauma exposure. Funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Use of Prazosin for Alzheimer’s Patients Elaine Peskind, MD, and Murray Raskind, MD, are leading a randomized controlled multicenter trial of prazosin for disruptive agitation in Alzheimer's disease. The study will be performed at 20 community long-term care facilities around the country. A novel feature of the trial will be the collection of agitation data through the use of wrist actigraphy, a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest and activity cycles. Funded by the National Institute on Aging.
CREATING HEALTHIER, MORE FULFILLING LIVES
One of the most exciting initiatives launched by UW President, Dr. Ana Mari Cauce, is a 25-year challenge to advance the health of people worldwide by addressing the most persistent and emerging challenges to human health, environmental resilience, and social and economic equity. To help advance that vision, UW created new funding for pilot research grants to UW faculty addressing these challenges. Faculty from our department were involved in 21 of 60 proposals submitted to the first call for applications and two of those proposals received funding from the university as part of the first five grants awarded.
Impressed with the quality of proposals, Chair Jürgen Unützer invited all department faculty with unfunded proposals to submit them for review and scoring by peer faculty as part of a pilot funding initiative during our 2017 Research Retreat. Faculty, staff and trainees scored proposals on three criteria: innovation, public health impact, and likelihood of future grant funding. Of the fifteen proposals submitted for consideration, the top two proposals were funded in full. The third proposal was funded at two thirds of the amount of the original ask. The fourth, fifth and sixth ranked proposals were offered partial funding pending matching fund commitments from other sources. Total department funding for these pilot studies, including matching support of the two proposals funded by the university, exceeds $200,000. The top three proposals are described below.
Economic and Social Roots of the Opioid Epidemic in Washington
Opioid prescribing varies six-fold among Washington’s 39 counties. Rates of opioid death and hospitalization also vary widely but are only partially explained by these differences in prescribing. Mark Sullivan, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the School of Pharmacy, the Department of Geography, the Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology, and the Washington State Department of Health’s Office of Epidemiology, will examine opioid prescribing, opioid deaths and hospitalizations, and socio-economic characteristics at the 5-digit zip code level to identify causal relationships that could lead to life-saving interventions.
Caring Letters After the War: Veterans Writing Veterans to Prevent Suicide
Veteran suicides represent 26% of all suicides in Washington and the veteran suicide rate is significantly higher than the population rate. Caring Letters, which entails primary care providers sending high-risk patients brief messages expressing caring concern, is one of the only suicide prevention interventions shown to reduce suicides. Caring messages sent from Veterans Affairs providers are unlikely to produce the same benefits due to lack of trust. Mark Reger, PhD, will collaborate with colleagues in the School of Business and the Department of Psychology to develop and evaluate a protocol for volunteer letter writers, procedures to match American Legion letter writers with high-risk veterans, privacy and safety procedures, and preliminary outcomes for both letter writers and recipients.
Real-time Influences of Geospatial Context and Negative Affect on Young Adult Marijuana Use
Understanding factors that influence use and misuse of marijuana has become a population priority, especially for young adults. Isaac Rhew, PhD, MPH, will collaborate with colleagues from the Departments of Urban Design and Planning, Epidemiology, Pediatrics, and Psychology to conduct a pilot study that uses GPS location data to understand the effects of real-time exposures to neighborhood features (e.g. marijuana retails outlets) and fluctuations in mood on marijuana craving and use among young adults.
THE ENGINE OF OUR RESEARCH
About 250 staff work in our department and about 80% support research. They accomplish this in a wide variety of ways. They manage laboratories and research operations. They collect research data from a wide variety of sources. They interview research subjects and deliver interventions designed to improve a broad array of behavioral health conditions. They analyze data, facilitate relationships with partner organizations and community stakeholders, monitor budgets, order supplies, and assist faculty with a myriad of tasks necessary to accomplish our research.
Quite simply, we couldn’t accomplish our research without them.
Some staff have worked at UW for decades, providing the benefits of deep experience, expertise, and institutional knowledge to their research teams and the department. Others are student employees or recent graduates participating in research for the first time. The profiles below demonstrate the breadth of responsibilities our staff shoulder and the critically important role they play.
Tanya Eng-Aquino, Manager of Program Operations Tanya manages grants, finance and operations for the Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors (CSHRB). For the past 12 years, Tanya has worked closely with the CSHRB Director, Dr. Mary Larimer, as the Center grew to include 18 faculty, 22 staff, 7 postdocs, and 9 graduate students. There is no challenge Tanya shrinks from and her extraordinary contributions to the Center, the Department, and the University were recognized when she received the UW Distinguished Staff Award in 2011. Tanya generously shares her expertise and experience through active participation in the Psychiatry Operations Council and the Finance Workgroup, making her a valued colleague among her peers. Outside work, Tanya enjoys spending time with her husband, two school-age children, and extended family.
Scott Ng-Evans, PhD, Research Scientist/Engineer
Dr. Ng-Evans has a PhD in Neuroscience and an AAS in Biomedical Equipment and Electronics. He designs and builds electronic circuits and other laboratory apparatus for experiments, writes computer code, manages a multi-terabyte file server, and repairs laboratory and office equipment for the Department’s Neurosciences labs. He has served in this role for 18 years, supporting labs at Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Health Sciences Center, and Puget Sound VA. These labs study the brain mechanics involved in a wide range of behavioral health disorders including autism, dementia, addictions, schizophrenia, and more. Scott’s work is instrumental in supporting our research in this area. Outside work, Scott enjoys spending time with his family including his teen-age son and newborn daughter.
Karin Hendricks, MA, Research Coordinator
Karin, who received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from UW, is back in Seattle after completing a Master’s degree in Clinical Science. Karin works at Harborview Medical Center with Kate Comtois, PhD, MPH, managing a suicide prevention study for people recently released from an inpatient psychiatric facility. This study examines a counseling intervention and, in addition to her responsibilities as the project manager, Karin is training to become a study clinician. She supervises undergraduate research assistants and assists with and collaborates on all of the active projects in the Comtois lab. Outside work, Karin enjoys live music, cooking and dinner parties, playing with her puppy, and reading true crime novels.
Our department has a strong tradition of training and inspiring the next generation of research scientists starting at the undergraduate level. Our externally- and internally-sponsored graduate and post-graduate training programs and fellowships have trained thousands of scientists who use their research skills to improve the mental health of populations around the world. Two of our longest sponsored training programs are the Psychiatry in Primary Care T32 Fellowship (30 years) and the Psychology Training in Alcohol Research Fellowship (34 years). Our newest program is a two year Postdoctoral Research Training Program in School Mental Health administered by the School Mental Health Assessment, Research and Training (SMART) Center. Although not exhaustive, this short video gives you a taste of our current research training programs.
An essential component of any training program is high-quality mentorship. We asked our current trainees what they especially value in a mentor and their answers were turned into a word cloud. Availability, advocacy and encouragement rose to the top among many other desired qualities.
The Grantsmanship Program run by Mary Larimer, PhD, Joan Romano, PhD, and Ty Lostutter, PhD, is an excellent example of quality mentoring. The program provides research time, mentoring and a weekly grant-writing skills seminar for psychology residents, senior fellows, graduate students and junior faculty. Faculty provide feedback on research methods, statistical analysis, and mock study section reviews and cover topics such as How to Find Grant Funding, Developing Budgets, and Program Evaluation. Faculty also address career development topics including Time Management, Interacting with the Media and Negotiating Job Offers. A number of faculty members are involved and the program has been wildly successful. Over 200 trainees have completed the grantsmanship program over the past 17 years, with 92% saying it was a valuable experience that helped them obtain a post-doctoral research position or a faculty position.
Another department effort beneficial to research trainees is our new Mentorship Development Program, a comprehensive training program to teach and enhance the mentorship skills of senior faculty. The pilot program covered everything from negotiation and giving feedback to how to help a mentee find a focus. Effective mentorship is particularly important in research as the mentor’s skills can have a direct impact upon the mentee’s career. For more information about the program, please contact Jesse Markman (Jesse.Markman@va.gov). For more information about our department's faculty mentorship efforts, visit the Mentorship Program page on our intranet.
We have successfully recruited several stellar researchers into our department and will continue to look for ways to add faculty that can enhance our breadth and depth, including an active search for a dissemination and implementation scientist in behavioral health.
Patrick Raue, PhD, was brought on as the Associate Director for Evidence-Based Psychosocial Interventions at the AIMS Center. He also serves as the Director of the National Network of PST Clinicians, Trainers & Researchers. Dr. Raue’s clinical expertise includes the identification and management of mental health conditions in medical settings including primary care and home health care. Dr. Raue conducts NIMH-supported research on patient preferences and shared decision-making approaches for depression; the effectiveness of psychotherapy among older adults; and suicidal ideation.
Dror Ben-Zeev, PhD, joined us last February from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College. Dr. Ben-Zeev serves as Co-Director of the BRiTE Center with Dave Atkins, PhD, and Director of UW’s mHealth for Mental Health Program. His team is working on illness self-management apps for people with schizophrenia, mobile and context-aware technologies for assessment of violence and suicidality in psychiatric hospital settings, behavioral sensing and modelling systems for detection of relapse, social media outreach to people who experience auditory hallucinations, clinical texting interventions, and mHealth strategies for deployment in low and middle-income countries and other underserved settings.
Rachel Brian, MPH, worked with Dr. Ben-Zeev at Dartmouth and wished to move to Seattle to continue on as the Research Project Director for the mHealth for Mental Health Program. She monitors and supports research initiatives across all sites for the program, develops infrastructures to support implementation, analyzes data and disseminates findings through publications. Rachel also oversees software application development and leads quality assurance testing.
Pamela Collins, MD, will join us in January as the new Director of Global Mental Health, a program that is co-sponsored by the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences (primary) and Global Health (joint). Dr. Collins comes to UW after nearly eight years of leadership at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where she led the development of new funding initiatives for research or research training opportunities in mental health services research in low- and middle-income countries and mental health disparities research in the US, building a robust and growing portfolio in global mental health and creating a pathway to independence for young investigators while also stimulating research in US underserved populations.
Communicating about our research to the general public can help secure funding and partnerships, foster collaboration and innovation, and help researchers with promotion (breadth of impact). It also helps build awareness of our department, both within UW and without. In the bigger picture, communicating about our research builds support for science (which translates into budget decisions!), promotes an understanding of its wider relevance to society, encourages more informed decision-making, and makes science more accessible, diverse and inclusive.
Our faculty do an amazing job of making themselves accessible to media inquiries and to the UW Medicine news team and social media team. We’ve been mentioned in over 100 media stories this year, many of them research-focused, about 40% more than last year. We highlighted our media coverage in a special edition newsletter this summer, and have added two new items below.
PERFECTING YOUR PRESENTATION AND PITCH Attendees at our 2016 Research Retreat indicated they were interested in learning the art of pitching their research ideas and bringing their presentations to the next level. To address that request, we are offering a FREE workshop, Perfecting Your Presentation and Pitch, on Thursday, January 18 from 2:30-4:00 at the Waterfront Activities Center.
Public speaking expert Matt McGarrity, Principal Lecturer in the UW Communication Department, will provide pointers on how to articulate what you do by knowing your audience, avoiding jargon, and quickly getting to the heart of your message. This hands-on workshop will help you develop concise, engaging messages that leave your audience wanting to learn more whether you’re speaking to colleagues, donors or reporters. The workshop is open to all faculty, staff and trainees in the department. Please RSVP if you plan to attend, and direct questions to Rebecca Sladek (firstname.lastname@example.org).
University of Washington
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 356560
Seattle, WA 98195
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