Kurt Ackerman, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
Throughout his career at the University of Pittsburgh and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Kurt Ackerman, MD, PhD has been very active as a clinician educator and program administrator. He is a board-certified psychiatrist with a sub-specialty in psychosomatic medicine, and is the Medical Director for three of WPIC’s mental health service areas: Adult Mood and Anxiety Services; the Psychiatric Consultation-Liaison Service; and Behavioral Health Information Technology.
Dr. Ackerman earned his medical degree and a doctorate degree in Neurobiology and Anatomy from the University of Rochester in New York. He is a graduate of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic Residency Training Program and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry. Under the mentorship of Drs. Charles Reynolds and Christopher Martin, his research focused on interactions between the brain and immune system. More specifically, his studies focused on how the stress may exacerbate the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
Under his guidance, the Psychiatric Consultation and Liaison Program has grown into one of the largest and most diverse programs in the Country, providing inpatient consultations to nine UPMC Hospitals, as well as integrated services in a number of medical programs such as the Starzl Transplant Institute, University Internal Medicine, and Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. In addition to the Psychiatric Consultation Service, the WPIC Adult Service Line encompasses a number of diverse clinical areas including Traditional Inpatient and Outpatient Care, Intensive Outpatient Programs, Forensic Evaluations, ECT, and Pastoral Care Services. As the first Medical Director of Behavioral Health IT at UPMC, he is helping to coordinate the initial implementation of an inpatient Electronic Health Record System at WPIC which will go live in early 2013. A good citizen of the clinical community, Dr. Ackerman is on a number of WPIC committees for safety, ethics and health information management. He has taught numerous classes on confidentiality, consent and privacy, and has been a mentor to several residents and junior faculty. In recognition for his service in these areas, Dr. Ackerman has been the recipient of the Special Recognition Award for Services to Residency Training and an ACES award for Exemplary Service to UPMC.
Howard J. Aizenstein, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Bioengineering,
and Clinical and Translational Science
Howard Aizenstein, MD, PhD serves as the Director of the Geriatric Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory and Co-Director of Psychiatry Neuroimaging at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Aizenstein received his PhD in Computer Science (1993) and his MD (1995) from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He completed a residency in general and adult psychiatry (1999), a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry (2000), and a research fellowship in functional neuroimaging (2001) at the University of Pittsburgh before joining the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2001. Dr. Aizenstein is an internationally recognized expert on the cognitive and affective neuroscience of aging and geriatric psychiatry. His research program uses different converging methodologies, traditional computer tasks, as well as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging, to identify key brain structures associated with affective and cognitive processing, and how these change over time with and without intervention. Dr. Aizenstein’s research team has developed automated methods of morphometric and functional MRI analyses. Due in part to the wide applicability of his neuroimaging methods, Dr. Aizenstein has developed collaborations with many investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and at other academic institutions around the country.
David A. Axelson, MD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
A board-certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Axelson is a leading researcher in the area of child and adolescent mental health disorders and also maintains a robust clinical schedule in the Adolescent Bipolar Services outpatient program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) at UPMC, where he also serves as the Medical Director. In addition to his extensive clinical and research activities, Dr. Axelson is highly regarded as a teacher and mentor by medical students, residents, postdoctoral fellows and junior faculty.
Dr. Axelson is nationally recognized as an expert in child and adolescent psychopathology, pediatric bipolar disorder and depression. His research and clinical expertise has been featured in numerous media stories appearing in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and iVillage, among others, and his work played a prominent role in the PBS Frontline special, “The Medicated Child.” Most recently, Dr. Axelson’s editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry focusing on the creation of a new DSM-5 diagnosis - disruptive mood dysregulation disorder diagnosis – has sparked further discussion on the need for more developmental research on severe anger outburst and chronic irritability in children and how this behavior relates to other psychiatric disorders in this population.
Dr. Axelson is a graduate of Brown University and attained his M.D. in 1992 from the Duke University School of Medicine. After completing his residency training in the combined General – Child Psychiatry program at WPIC, he was appointed as a postdoctoral fellow to the federally funded Clinical Research Training in Child Psychiatry program where he focused on the study of child and adolescent mood disorders under the mentorship of Drs. David Brent, Boris Birmaher and James Perel.
Since his appointment to the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 2000, Dr. Axelson has built a successful career as an independent researcher whose interests include pediatric bipolar disorder (phenomenology, endophenotypes and treatment), diagnostic biomarkers for pediatric affective disorders, and pediatric psychopharmacology. He has served as the Principal Investigator (PI) and co-PI on several NIMH-funded studies centered on understanding the phenomenology of pediatric bipolar disorder, and improving the treatment of the illness. These investigations include several projects for which he is the PI or Co-PI of the Pittsburgh site such as the Family-Focused Therapy for Adolescents with Bipolar Disorder project, the Treatment of Early-Age Mania study, and the Course and Outcome of Bipolar Youth, as well as the Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study (with Co-PI’s Drs. Boris Birmaher and Mary Phillips) and a Longitudinal Assessment of Manic Symptoms (for which he is a Co-Investigator). Dr. Axelson has widely disseminated his research findings, publishing over 128 peer-reviewed articles in high impact journals including the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and the Archives of General Psychiatry, and presenting at numerous scientific meetings and conferences.
Boris Birmaher, MD
Endowed Chair in Early Onset Bipolar Disease
and Professor of Psychiatry
Boris Birmaher, MD, is the Endowed Chair in Early Onset Bipolar Disease and Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine. He has board certifications in both general psychiatry and child psychiatry. He received his medical degree from Valle University in Cali, Colombia and completed; training in general psychiatry at the Hebrew University, Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel; training in biological psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York; and training in child psychiatry at Columbia University, New York Psychiatric Institute in New York.
Dr. Birmaher has been involved in clinical work and research in pediatric mood and anxiety disorders for over 25 years. His research interests include areas of phenomenology, course and outcome, etiology, and pharmacology and psychosocial treatments. He is currently involved in several NIMH studies including: 1) “Course and Outcome for Adolescents with Bipolar Illness,” aimed at describing the phenomenology, course, and associated factors in children and adolescents with bipolar spectrum disorder; 2) “Children of Bipolar Parents: A High Risk Follow-up Study,” aimed at studying the longitudinal psychopathology of children of parents with bipolar disorder compared with children of community controls; and 3) “Longitudinal Assessment of Manic Symptoms,” aimed at evaluating the predictive value of early-onset manic symptoms in a large sample of children ages 6-12 years old. Together with Dr. David Axelson, he is the Co-Director of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Services (CABS) program, a program for the service, teaching and research of bipolar disorder in youth.
Cynthia A. Conklin, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Cynthia Conklin, PhD, has been known for her inquisitive nature and passion for her work throughout her academic career. Her interest in addiction and tobacco/nicotine research began during her graduate training at Purdue University, where she earned Master’s and doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology under the mentorship of Dr. Stephen Tiffany and was awarded the James D. Linden Award, presented to the graduate student who best exemplifies the scientist practitioner model of clinical psychology.
Following a one-year Clinical Psychology internship at the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Conklin relocated to Pittsburgh in 2001 to begin her appointment as a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Pittsburgh Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Program. As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Conklin trained with Dr. Kenneth Perkins and examined the reinforcing effects of nicotine and cigarette smoking in adult smokers. She also pursued external funding to support her development of an innovative strategy to examine personalized smoking cues by giving smokers cameras and having them take photographs of the places where they regularly do and do not smoke. Her efforts resulted in a pilot grant from the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center to conduct an exploratory study. This pilot work demonstrated the feasibility of having smokers create their own photographic stimuli materials and launched Dr. Conklin's independent research career focusing on proximal and distal smoking cues, and the impact of personalizing those cues on subjective and physiological reactivity in adult smokers.
Dr. Conklin was appointed Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh in 2003 and was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in 2012. She is the Principal Investigator for four R01 grants funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and has served as a Co-Investigator for several other federally funded projects throughout her career. This support has enabled Dr. Conklin to expand her exploration of how people, places and smoking-related objects function alone and in combination to affect both smokers’ craving and actual smoking behavior when they are confronted with salient cues to smoke and to not smoke. A nationally recognized expert on nicotine dependence, smoking, cue reactivity and conditioning theory, Dr. Conklin has published her findings in Addiction , the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and numerous other scientific journals. In addition, Dr. Conklin co-authored a book aimed at treating smokers," Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Smoking Cessation." She also is invited to present and participate in scientific meetings, conferences and workshops locally and nationally. Dr. Conklin also gives generously of her time in service to the academic community. She is been an ad hoc reviewer for the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the U.S., and for the Italian Ministry of Health and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, and as a reviewer for several scientific journals. In addition, Dr. Conklin is an active participant on a number of committees and working groups in the Department of Psychiatry and for professional societies and organizations.
In addition to her extensive research activities, Dr. Conklin is an outstanding educator, teacher and mentor to students, fellows and junior faculty. She has helped to foster an early interest in scientific discovery among high school students by actively volunteering as a Category Judge for the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Her teaching activities at the University of Pittsburgh include serving as an instructor for the Introduction to Psychiatry course as well as Behavioral Medicine and Medical Decision Making classes for first-year medical school courses, and Dr. Conklin is a member of the Master’ thesis and dissertation committees for students in the U.S. and Belgium.
Anne Germain, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology
Dr. Anne Germain is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the Université de Montréal in 2001 and completed her post-doctoral training in clinical sleep research at the University of Pittsburgh in 2005.
Dr. Germain’s research program has two main areas of interest. The first focuses on the mechanisms underlying sleep disturbances occurring in the context of stress-related psychiatric disorders, with a special emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her work in this area utilizes multimodal sleep measurement methods including self-report measures, actigraphy and polysomnography, quantitative EEG, pharmacological probes, sleep neuroimaging techniques, as well as novel animal models. The second area of interest concentrates on the development, adaptation, and testing of treatments targeting stress-related sleep disturbances as a means to enhance psychological resilience and to hasten recovery from trauma exposure.
Dr. Germain has published over 45 peer-reviewed articles and 15 chapters and invited papers on sleep in the context of PTSD and other stress-related disorders. She has served on various committees of the Sleep Research Society (SRS) and American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). Dr. Germain currently serves on the Editorial Board of the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine, and is a regular peer reviewer for specialized journals on sleep, trauma, and psychiatry. She also serves on various study sections for the United States Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Jordan F. Karp, MD
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology,
and Clinical and Translational Science
Jordan F. Karp, MD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Anesthesiology, and Clinical and Translational Science. Dr. Karp earned a Bachelor’s degree from Emory University and his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He completed his residency in Psychiatry at the Columbia University in New York. A native Pittsburgher, Dr. Karp wanted to return home for fellowships in geriatric psychiatry and clinical research and then to join the psychiatry faculty in 2006. His research interests include improving care for older adults living with comorbid low back pain and depression, for which he has been awarded a R01 grant from the NIA. Dr. Karp recently received a prestigious NARSAD award to study buprenorphine, an opioid analgesic, for use in treatment resistant depression. He is a frequent lecturer both locally and nationally on the topics of pain and aging, and the treatment of depression in late-life. A sought-after mentor, Dr. Karp helps advise several medical students’ scholarly projects. In addition to research, Dr. Karp is a skilled clinician with a busy private practice and is Medical Director for Geriatric Psychiatry at UPMC Pain Medicine at Centre Commons. In his spare time he enjoys running, playing with his two miniature pinschers, and sailing at Chautauqua Lake with family.
William E. Klunk, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology
Dr. William E. Klunk is a Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and Co-Director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Klunk completed an MD/PhD degree at Washington University in St. Louis focusing on neuropharmacology and medicinal chemistry. Dr. Klunk then completed a general psychiatry residency followed by a Fellowship in Geriatric Neuropsychopharmacology at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC)/University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the National Alzheimer’s Association. He has published well over 150 journal articles and book chapters and is Principal Investigator of several NIH and Foundation grants and has received a MERIT Award from the NIA. Dr. Klunk is a pioneer in the field of in vivo amyloid imaging in humans. His work spans from basic synthetic chemistry and neuropharmacological evaluation of amyloid imaging tracers to human PET studies of these tracers. His group’s 2004 paper was cited by Nature Medicine the most highly cited research paper on Alzheimer’s disease published since 2004. He shared the 2004 MetLife Foundation Award, the 2008 Potamkin Prize and the 2009 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute Awards for research in Alzheimer’s disease with his colleague, Dr. Chet Mathis. Among his current research projects, Dr. Klunk is particularly excited about the prospect of determining how early amyloid deposition begins before clinical symptoms appear and what other mediators determine whether the presence of brain amyloid results in clinical symptoms.
David Kolko, PhD, ABPP
Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology
David Kolko, PhD, ABPP, is a Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director of the Special Services Unit at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. He directs the SAFE Program (Services for Adolescent and Family Enrichment) at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, an outpatient treatment research program for sexually abusive youth that is operated in collaboration with probation officers from the Juvenile Court. He is board certified in Child and Adolescent Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology and a fellow of the American Psychological Association.
His primary interests involve the study and treatment of disruptive behavior disorders and children’s antisocial behavior, including childhood firesetting, adolescent sexual offending behavior, and child physical abuse and related forms of maltreatment. He is the developer of an evidence-based treatment for physical aggression/abuse, child behavior problems, and family coercion/conflict, called “Alternatives for Families: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (AF-CBT; www.afcbt.org). Much of his current treatment research is devoted to the dissemination and implementation of AF-CBT to community practitioners working in various systems that serve children, youth, and families, including pediatric primary care, juvenile justice, child welfare, public health/safety, and mental health.
His prior books include, Assessing and treating physically abused children and their families: A cognitive-behavioral approach (2002, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA), and the Handbook on Firesetting in Children and Youth (2002, Academic Press).A sample of Dr. Kolko’s clinical-research activities and articles may be found online at http://www.pitt.edu/~kolko.
Karen Matthews, PhD
Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Epidemiology, Psychology, and Clinical and Translational Science
Dr. Karen Matthews joined the faculty in 1979 and is now Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Epidemiology and Psychology. After receiving her B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, she traveled extensively (and very cheaply) in Europe, northern Africa, and Mexico – an invaluable life experience. She earned her PhD in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, where her dissertation research was on Type A behavior, a potential risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). Her subsequent research has been guided by several assumptions. First, epidemiological constructs associated with CVD provide opportunities to identify the psychobiological mechanisms underlie the associations. Her interests in Type A, negative emotions, race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and most recently poor sleep arose from that assumption. Second, it is most informative to investigate epidemiological constructs at times of transition, because change often can provide a unique window on underlying psychobiological processes. Her interests in adolescence, menopause, and mid-life aging stem from that view. She is fortunate to have joined efforts with a remarkable group of investigators at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in establishing the Cardiovascular Behavioral Medicine Research Training Program, academic health psychology doctoral programs, and the Pittsburgh Mind-Body Center. She has received the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Scientific Applications of Psychology; Cardiovascular Research Award from the North American Menopause Society; Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Behavioral Medicine; and President’s Award from the American Psychosomatic Society. She was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine in 2002. She enjoys gardening and playing racquet sports, and is an avid Steelers fan.
Kenneth C. Nash, MD, MMM
Associate Professor of Psychiatry
Kenneth C. Nash, MD, MMM is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is the Chief of Clinical Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and Vice Chair of Clinical Affairs for the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Nash is a board certified child and adolescent and adult psychiatrist who is active in the clinical, academic and administrative arenas. He completed his Psychiatric Residency and Fellowship in Pittsburgh and has been affiliated with UPP since its inception. He served as the Director of Residency Training in the Department of Psychiatry for several years before assuming his current role as the Chief of Clinical Services at WPIC in 2005. As the Chief of Clinical Services, Dr. Nash oversees more than two hundred psychiatric members of the UPMC Presbyterian Medical Staff. In this position, he has worked to further the integration of research and clinical services and has implemented numerous quality projects related to physician performance. Dr. Nash has been a strong advocate for the importance of physician leadership.
Dr. Nash has been instrumental in the development and implementation of innovative psychiatric services throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He is the PI on the five-year Youth and Family Training Institute grant and is the Co-PI on the six-year Pennsylvania System of Care Grant. Dr. Nash has had a national presence on committees such as the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Committee of Business Relations and the APA Quality Committee.
Robert A. Sweet, MD
Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology
Dr. Robert Sweet and his research team are interested in what causes psychotic symptoms (delusions and hallucinations). These symptoms are core features of the most common psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, but also occur in about 50% of individuals with Alzheimer Disease. Work conducted in his lab has determined that the risk of developing psychotic symptoms during Alzheimer Disease, like the risk of developing schizophrenia, is strongly influenced by genetic variation. He and his colleagues have been asking whether some of the same genes may contribute to both disorders. They have found some evidence suggesting this may be true and are actively pursuing a definitive answer.
Investigators in the Sweet Laboratory are also interested in whether there are shared alterations within the brain that result in psychotic symptoms. This group, and others, have found that the density of dendritic spines, the site of excitatory input, is reduced in the cerebral cortex of subjects with schizophrenia. Dendritic spine loss is also an essential feature of Alzheimer Disease. Indirect evidence indicates that individuals with psychosis during Alzheimer Disease have even greater spine loss. Dr. Sweet and his team are currently testing this hypothesis directly. Their working model is that alterations in the proteins which regulate the structural plasticity of spines render them vulnerable to excessive removal. This may occur during periods in which spine elimination occurs normally (adolescence) or occurs due to an independent pathologic process (early Alzheimer Disease). This model provides a basis for translation into novel interventions to prevent or reverse spine loss by targeting any identified pathologic proteins. Check out the SweetLab to learn more about his research, including training opportunities.
Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Medicine
Eva M. Szigethy, MD, PhD is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is the clinical director of the Medical Coping Clinic, an integrated clinical behavioral health program nested in the Division of Gastroenterology at Children’s Hospital of UPMC as well as director of the Visceral Inflammation & Pain (VIP) Center in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at UPMC Presbyterian, a similar program for adults. Dr. Szigethy’s major research interest is examining the detrimental effect of depression on disease course in physically ill youth and adults with emphasis on the neurodevelopmental trajectory of mental and physical illness as adolescents transition to adulthood. She is conducting a NIMH funded R01 study to investigate the effects of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on the emotional state of youths, 9-17 years with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and clinically significant depression. In 2007, Dr. Szigethy was chosen by the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to receive the prestigious New Innovator Award. Dr. Szigethy’s NIH award, established to stimulate highly innovative research and support promising new investigators, allows her to utilize a translational approach to combine brain imaging as well as physiological, neuroimmunological and genetic tools to understand emotional and cognitive processing in patients with IBD with and without depression. She currently serves as President of the Association of Women Psychiatrists, an American Psychiatric Association-affiliated group of 3,200 women psychiatrists worldwide devoted to fostering excellence in women’s health and professional development. More recently, Dr. Szigethy was awarded to receive Distinguished Fellow status by the American Psychiatric Association.