Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine, the Yerkes National Primate Research Center and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN), is the recipient of a five-year Burroughs Wellcome Fund Clinical Scientist Award in Translational Research. Dr. Ressler is among ten physician-scientists in the United States to receive the 2006 award of $750,000, given for laboratory research that impacts patient care.
The Clinical Scientist Award is given to a small number of investigators across all medical disciplines from cardiology to cancer biology. Dr. Ressler’s award is the first given to a psychiatrist in several years. Each award is given with the intention of providing the investigator flexibility to explore scientific questions, apply the resulting knowledge in clinical settings, and bring insights from the clinical setting back to the laboratory for further study. Mentoring trainees is another important component of the award.
“I am extremely honored to receive this prestigious and generous award from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. It will allow me and my colleagues to further translate our basic studies of emotional learning in simple animal systems to understanding and advancing clinical treatments in humans," said Dr. Ressler. "The underlying basis of fear is similar across all mammals, and by understanding the molecular basis of fear in rodent models we believe we can make great strides in understanding the pathophysiology as well as advance treatment for human fear-based disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social and specific phobia."
A member of the Fear Collaboratory of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, Dr. Ressler uses mouse models to study the genetic, molecular and cellular causes of the fear response in the brain. Along with Emory School of Medicine researchers Michael Davis, PhD, and Barbara Rothbaum, PhD, Dr. Ressler has helped develop an effective treatment for some anxiety-related disorders, including simple phobias, such as fear of heights, and social phobia or social anxiety disorder. The treatment, currently in clinical trials, uses D-cycloserine, a drug originally developed for treating tuberculosis, in combination with exposure-based psychotherapy to diminish the underlying fear response. There is hope that this approach will be more broadly applicable to panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Ressler received a bachelor’s degree at MIT in 1990, and an MD, PhD from Harvard Medical School in 1997. In 1992 at Harvard, he was the first graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Linda Buck, helping to identify the molecular organization of the odorant receptor gene family, research for which she shared the Nobel Prize with Richard Axel in 2004.
Following his residency in psychiatry, Dr. Ressler trained in the laboratory of Dr. Davis, a leading expert on amygdala function and behavior, with whom he continues to collaborate. Dr. Ressler recently received an R01 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to examine the genetics and psychological risk factors that underlie post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Ressler also is co-director of the newly created Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic and research program entitled, “The Grady Trauma Project” at Grady Memorial Hospital, where he treats patients with severe affective, anxiety and psychotic disorders.
Dr. Ressler has received several national research awards. In 2002, he received a grant from the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation to define the biological pathways associated with fear. He previously has received the Pfizer Fellowship in Biological Psychiatry, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America Junior Faculty Award, two NARSAD young investigator awards, and a Charles E. Culpeper Scholarship in Medical Science from Goldman Philanthropic Partnerships. ###