Anissa Abi-Dargham, MD, Chief
The area of research of the Division of Translational Imaging (DTI) at NYSPI is the development of novel tools and techniques to study neurotransmission in the living human brain, and the application of these techniques to clinical studies to unravel chemical imbalances associated with severe mental illnesses and drug addiction. Molecular imaging techniques based on Positron Emission Tomography (PET) are the main methods developed and used in the Division. The imaging approach has a translational emphasis, using imaging to identify phenotypes that can be tested in animal models or vice versa using models derived from preclinical knowledge to be tested in clinical populations.
Development of new imaging techniques include design of new radiotracers (organic synthesis, chemical structure-activity relationship, in vitro evaluation, experiments in rodents and primates, dosimetry and toxicology evaluation, filing of IND, phase 1 and 2 studies in humans), as well as development of new imaging paradigms based on pharmacological challenges, cognitive tasks or electromagnetic challenges to measure responsivity of neurotransmitter systems.
Clinical investigations within the Division focus on schizophrenia, cannabis dependence and comorbidity with schizophrenia, MDMA dependence, design of paradigms to assess dopamine release in response to alcohol challenge and reward related tasks, identification of biomarkers for disease prevention or drug discovery and aid in drug development. Additionally, the Division performs imaging studies in collaboration with other investigators who specialize in the study of various disorders: anxiety disorders (Dr. Simpson), mood disorders (Dr. Schneier), autism (Dr. Hollander from Mt Sinai), personality disorders (Dr. Siever from Mt Sinai) and alcoholism (Dr. Krystal from Yale).
The Division also trains fellows in the acquisition of the expertise and skills required for clinical investigation using PET, with focus on basic receptology, neurochemistry, pharmacology and pharmacokinetics, in depth teaching of PET imaging, functional neuroanatomy, kinetic analysis on a region or voxel based approach, as well as general principles of clinical investigation (CGMP, statistics, drafting of IRB protocols).
The faculty in the division are Lawrence Kegeles MD PhD, Mark Slifstein PhD and the Division Chief Anissa Abi-Dargham MD. Dr Slifstein is an internationally renowned expert in mathematical modeling and image analysis, Dr Kegeles has expertise in multimodal imaging including MRS, MRI and PET and Dr Abi-Darghamis internationally known for her contributions to understanding the neurochemistry of the brain in schizophrenia, particularly dopaminergic alterations and their modulation by NMDA dysfunction. Current fellows in training are Judy Thompson Ph.D. and Nina Urban, M.D., the Division also includes scientists specialized in image registration and analysis, and a large highly skilled technical staff.