Emory University neuroscientist Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, has been named one of 15 new Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigators -- considered by HHMI to be the nation's top physician-scientists who will ensure basic research discoveries are translated into improved treatments for patients.
Dr. Ressler is a researcher at Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine and a member of the Atlanta-based Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. He is the first practicing psychiatrist to be appointed an HHMI investigator.
"We are extremely pleased to have one of our eminent Emory physician-scientists named to this prestigious position as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator," says Fred Sanfilippo, MD, PhD, CEO of Emory University's Woodruff Health Sciences Center and executive vice president for health affairs. "Dr. Ressler exemplifies excellence in research collaboration, as his work includes not only many research partners at Yerkes and Emory School of Medicine, but also includes our Atlanta research partners in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience."
Dr. Ressler's research is focused on uncovering the biological mechanisms that cause fear. More than five million Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that causes chronic anxiety and traumatic flashbacks. Dr. Ressler believes the keys to preventing and treating the disease lie in understanding the genetics and neurobiology that control emotion and emotional learning.
"Dr. Ressler's work substantiates how translational research can be accomplished by moving from basic research findings in animals to applications and treatment in patients," said Stuart Zola, PhD, director of the Yerkes Research Center.
Thomas J. Lawley, MD, dean of the Emory School of Medicine, says "I am very pleased for Dr. Ressler and Emory. This award from HHMI is a clear indication of the high quality and importance of Dr. Ressler's research."
In partnership with researchers Michael Davis, PhD, Yerkes Research Center and Emory University School of Medicine, and Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, Emory University School of Medicine, Dr. Ressler developed a treatment for anxiety-related disorders, such as fear of heights and social anxiety disorder. The treatment uses D-cycloserine (DCS), a drug originally developed for treating tuberculosis, in combination with exposure-based psychotherapy to diminish the underlying fear response. The first clinical trials were so encouraging that more than ten additional clinical trials are under way to examine the effect of DCS on PTSD and other anxiety and fear-based disorders.
"Dr. Ressler is an outstanding translational neuroscientist at the interface of molecular neurobiology, genetics and major psychiatric disorders. His research on pathophysiology has the promise of leading to major breakthroughs in improving both the diagnosis and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders including depression, panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorders," says Charles B. Nemeroff, MD, PhD, Reunette W. Harris Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Emory School of Medicine.
Dr. Ressler, who also is co-director of the PTSD program at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, plans to expand clinical trials to include both war veterans and inner-city residents in Atlanta who have been traumatized by exposure to violence. Additionally, Dr. Ressler's preclinical work, based at Yerkes at Emory, examines the molecular and neural mechanisms of fear learning and the process of recovery from fear.
"I am extremely excited and honored to be named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. This is a great honor for me, and it is a tribute to the work of many of my colleagues, mentors, students and associates," says Dr. Ressler. "The HHMI support will allow us to continue to work in collaborative and translational ways on the most exciting and ground-breaking approaches to understanding emotion and translating basic science findings to help humans with psychiatric disorders."
During the last two decades, HHMI, a non-profit medical research organization, has made investments of more than $8.3 billion for the support, training and education of the nation's most creative and promising scientists to advance biomedical research and science education. Additional information about the new HHMI investigators is available at http://www.hhmi.org.
The Emory University School of Medicine is ranked among the nation's finest institutions for biomedical education. The school's three-part mission encompasses teaching, scholarship and service. Its wide-ranging educational and training programs include medical students, graduate students, residents, fellows, postdoctoral students and students in the allied health professions.
For more than seven decades, Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center has been dedicated to advancing science and to improving human health and well being. Today, the center, as one of only eight National Institutes of Health-funded national primate research centers, provides specialized scientific resources, expertise and training opportunities. Recognized as a multidisciplinary research institute, the Yerkes Research Center is making landmark discoveries in the fields of microbiology and immunology, neuroscience, psychobiology and sensory-motor systems.