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Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine

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.

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.

To learn more about CAIR’s current research studies, please visit their Current Research page.

Grief and Depression Research

Grief and Depression research is led by Dr. Joseph Goveas and primarily conducted on the MCW campus in Milwaukee, WI. You can learn more about Dr. Goveas current research projects on the Center for Imaging Research page. Some of Dr. Goveas' current projects include:

Endocannabinoid system and brain network function in late-life depression
The major goals of this project is to determine components of the endocannabinoid signaling system (ECS) and brain network features associated with Late-life Depression (LLD) occurrence, and with persistent low mood and anhedonia, two core symptom dimensions of LLD. This NIH-funded study will set the stage for future seminal research that uses ECS and brain network function measures as biomarkers to aid diagnosis, predict and monitor outcomes to specific treatment interventions, and guide selection of optimal treatment for individual patients prior to initiation.

Neurobiological markers of major depression in individuals with grief
Experiencing the death of a loved one is inevitable. Most grieving individuals are resilient and return to normal functioning but about 20% develop bereavement-related major depression, a condition associated with reduced quality of life, poorer medical outcomes, premature mortality and increased suicides. Early diagnosis to target treatment is essential to prevent these adverse health consequences, but currently we cannot identify who will progress from acute grief to bereavement-related major depression. Our goal in this project is to evaluate those with acute grief to identify brain changes that distinguish those who are resilient from those who will develop clinical depression.

Brain imaging in depressed adults at risk for Alzheimer's disease
Depression that occurs in mid- and late-life is associated with future occurrences of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease in a subgroup of patients. The goal of this project is to identify the changes occurring in the brain that distinguish depressed from non-depressed older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

Pharmacoimaging treatment studies in individuals with late-life depression
About 50 percent of individuals with late-life depression do not respond adequately to commonly prescribed first-line antidepressants. This pilot study will examine whether two drugs approved for non-psychiatric indications could serve as effective augmenting agents in treating depression in those older adults who are resistant to first-line therapies. This pharmacoimaging LLD study will (1) determine the neurobiological targets of these unconventional treatments, and (2) examine the brain mechanisms that are related to treatment response.

Meet Joseph Goveas, MD
Dr. Goveas is associate professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, and the Institute for Health & Equity at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW). Dr. Goveas is the director of Geriatric Psychiatry, and training director of the MCW Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship program. He completed his medical school at the University of Mangalore in India, adult psychiatry residency at the University of Chicago, and geriatric psychiatry fellowship training at the University of Pennsylvania. By utilizing the MCW’s Neuroscience Center infrastructure and cutting-edge brain imaging technology available at the Center for Imaging Research, his research team combines comprehensive clinical and neuropsychiatric assessments, and blood and brain network measurements with sophisticated data analytic methods to answer critical questions that enhance our knowledge regarding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying Late-Life Depression (LLD) and treatment response, and the link between LLD and future incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Goveas is currently funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and is also a Co-Investigator on the NIH-Funded Alzheimer’s Disease Connectome Project. He previously received funding from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (previously NARSAD), RECALL Foundation, and the Alzheimer’s Association International Research Grant program, and served as a co-investigator and consultant for the NIH-funded Women’s Health Initiative suite of studies. He has received several awards including being selected every year since 2009 as the Best Doctors in America, is an elected member of the American College of Psychiatrists, is member of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, was selected as one of the promising junior investigators in Alzheimer’s disease by the 2013 Charleston Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, was a prior recipient of the Investigator of the year award from the Alzheimer’s Association of Southeastern Wisconsin, and is currently a scholar of the NIMH/Cornell Advanced Research Institute in Geriatric Mental Health. He has several peer-reviewed publications in high-impact medical journals, and has given national and international presentations related to cognitive aging, grief and late-life depression and Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.
Interested in becoming a participant?
If you are interested in becoming a participant in one of these studies, please contact Stacy Claesges, Research Coordinator, at (414) 955-8970 or via email.

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.

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.

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."