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Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Research Activities

The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine conducts a wide variety of research activities including basic science, translational and clinical research activities, spanning ages and subspecialties all focused on behavioral health concerns. Learn more about current research activities and faculty.

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Biobehavioral Oncology Research

Jennifer M. Knight, MD, MS, FACLP is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Microbiology & Immunology. She has a research interest in psychoneuroimmunology and cancer, with a specific focus on the neuroimmune mechanisms involved in mediating the relationship between social health disparities and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT) outcomes. She works in conjunction with the MCW Clinical Cancer Center& and the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR) to investigate these mechanisms in both local clinical trials as well as nationally representative populations of HCT recipients. Her research has identified that a molecular indicator of social health disparities, a gene expression pattern termed the “conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA)”, is associated with both low socioeconomic status and adverse outcomes among HCT recipients. Through an innovative clinical trial of the repurposed beta-blocker propranolol, Dr. Knight has further demonstrated that this CTRA biological pattern can be pharmacologically blunted. Future planned studies will trial mindfulness as a behavioral strategy to improve disrupted sleep and remediate expression of CTRA biology patterning as another effective modality. Together, these data suggest that biological impacts of one’s social environment contribute to altered cancer outcomes among HCT recipients and that these impacts are modifiable through pharmacologic and behavioral interventions. In addition to studying the impact of the brain on immune function and disease outcomes, Dr. Knight also investigates the effects of HCT treatments and immunotherapy on central nervous system function to better understand their effects on quality of life and patient-reported outcomes.

Dr. Knight has received American Cancer Society pilot grant, a CTSI KL2 career development award granted to junior faculty with significant promise of establishing an independent research career in clinical and translational science, an NCI/Leidos Biomed grant through the Biobehavioral Pathways in Cancer Network, and Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin funding.

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Center for AIDS Research (CAIR)

The Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR), located in Milwaukee is directed by Jeffrey A. Kelly, PhD, was established in 1994 and has successfully competed for renewed funding since then.

The Center will begin its 25th year in 2018, and it has adopted the following mission statement:

"CAIR's mission is to conceptualize, conduct, and scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of new intervention strategies to prevent HIV infection in populations vulnerable to the disease. CAIR's research also develops improved strategies to promote health and alleviate adverse mental health consequences among persons living with HIV. CAIR is committed to disseminating its findings both to the scientific community and to public health providers so they benefit from Center research."

CAIR’s approach to achieving this mission is interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and multidimensional. The Center is a leader in the field of HIV prevention research, bringing together outstanding investigators and drawing upon models from the behavioral and social sciences, medicine, public health, mathematics, economics, communication, law, and infectious disease epidemiology to develop innovative HIV prevention methods.

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Goveas Grief Research Program (DREAM)

Experiencing the death of a loved one is inevitable, and grief is a natural response. Most acutely grieving adults are resilient and recover their pre-loss functioning within a year. However, a significant minority develop complications such as prolonged grief disorder (or complicated grief) and bereavement-related depression. The development of these complications is especially high following the death of a life partner or a child. The public health consequences of prolonged grief disorder and bereavement-related depression are enormous, and include declines in physical health and cognition, poor quality of life, functional impairment, premature mortality, and an increased risk of suicide.

Despite the magnitude of this problem, we cannot distinguish those grieving individuals who are resilient and will successfully transition to integrated grief from those who are prone to develop prolonged grief disorder or bereavement-related depression. Thus, it is not known who among the grieving individuals warrants early intervention, what treatments are most effective, and when to initiate treatment.

DREAM is a transdisciplinary program that examines factors that can complicate acute grief following the loss of a loved one, with the goal of identifying interventions that prevent grief-related complications. We also aim to identify treatments that can improve long-term health outcomes in those experiencing prolonged grief disorder and bereavement-related depression.

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The Periscope Project

Through partnership with the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee and the generous support of the United Health Foundation, researchers are conducting a multi-layered and comprehensive evaluation of the first 2 years of The Periscope Project data to examine the programs direct and indirect effects. The Periscope Project is a free resource for healthcare providers treating perinatal patients struggling with mental health disorders. The program offers providers real time access to subspecialty perinatal psychiatric tele-consultation, education, and community resource information. "The primary objective of the research is to assess the utilization of The Periscope Project by health care providers, provider satisfaction with the program, and evidence of provider's incorporation of information into the future care of their patients."

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Trauma Research

Dr. Sadie Larsen conducts research primarily in the Milwaukee area. Dr. Larsen studies:

  1. The effects of trauma on veterans and civilians.
  2. Methods for better treating and preventing the negative effects of trauma.

For instance, recent projects included 1) investigating whether an online memory training intervention could help decrease symptoms of chronic PTSD in veterans (CTSI funding), 2). examining whether a brief intervention following hospitalization could prevent the development of PTSD after trauma in civilians (MCW Research Affairs Committee funding). She also collaborates with other researchers nationally to better understand the process of improvement in empirically supported PTSD therapies. She is also conducting program evaluation research on a project designed to outreach to Veterans and help get them connected to VA healthcare.

Learn more about Dr. Sadie Larsen