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Research Programs

The Department of Psychiatry’s externally funded research portfolio currently exceeds $15 million and is growing rapidly. The Department’s research program includes several research programs, including the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC), the Division of Services Research (DSR), the Center on Behavioral Treatment of Schizophrenia (CBTS), and the Mental Illness Research Education, Clinical Center at the VISN 5 Veterans Affairs Medical System, Psychiatry Translational Research Laboratories and Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program.

Together these centers represent one of the most comprehensive programs of research on psychotic disorders in the world, with research that includes basic histologic and neurochemical studies of brain tissue, animal models for the substrates of psychosis, genomics and proteomics, clinical trials of experimental therapeutic agents, behavioral treatments for substance abuse and disability among patients with psychosis, studies of the impacts of psychosis on the health behaviors of patients, experimental studies of community interventions to improve patient functioning (assertive community treatment, supportive employment) and healthcare policy studies. We've also recently been given the opportunity to expand our research programs in three other areas: mood and anxiety disorders, child and adolescent psychiatry and geropsychiatry. We are actively recruiting researchers in all three areas.

Division of Services Research

The Division of Services Research conducts applied research, evaluation, training and dissemination activities that fundamentally aim to improve the quality and outcomes of care for persons with mental disorders. While the historic focus of the DSR has been on adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses, more recent initiatives have included children with and at risk for serious emotional disturbances as well as individuals and families exposed to trauma and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as well as depression that co-occurs with HIV. Directed by Dr. Lisa Dixon, the DSR has a portfolio of projects with a total annual budget of approximately $7 million with funding from multiple federal, state, and private sources, including NIMH, NIDA, SAMHSA, the VA, and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The portfolio over the last three years totaled about $16 million. The DSR encompasses several Centers that support DSR’s research and training activities.

Dr. Dixon directs the Center for Mental Health Services Research (CMHSR) whose primary mission is to conduct externally funded research that improves mental health services. CMHSR studies include a focus on effectiveness, costs, and dissemination strategies. The current RAISE Connection Program study is designed to test whether early and assertive intervention can improve outcomes for individuals with schizophrenia who are within the first two years of the onset of psychosis. The Mental Health Systems Improvement Collaborative (MHSIC) directed by Dr. Howard Goldman, is funded primarily by State of Maryland contracts and consists of three integrated Centers: the Mental Health Services Training Center, the Evidence-Based Practice Center, and the Systems Evaluation Center. The Mental Health Services Training Center (MHSTC) represents a collaboration between DHMH’s Mental Hygiene Administration (MHA) and the DSR, designed to serve the training and service development needs of Maryland’s mental health delivery system. The Evidence-Based Practice Center (EBPC) was established in 2001 by the Mental Hygiene Administration to address the gap between science and “real world” practice. The EBP Center’s goal is to distribute research-based information on mental health treatment to stakeholders in Maryland’s public mental health system, and to promote adoption and implementation of those practices through ongoing training and consultation. The Systems Evaluation Center conducts evaluations of the Public Mental Health System of Maryland in conjunction with the Mental Hygiene Administration. Dr. Laurel Kiser directs the Children’s Outcomes Management Center (COMC) which is devoted to improving the quality of behavioral health treatment for children, adolescents, and their families through outcomes evaluation. The COMC uses internet-based capabilities to facilitate data-driven decision making for providers of mental health services to children and adolescents. The Family Informed Trauma Treatment (FITT) Center is also directed by Dr. Laurel Kiser and focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of trauma specific interventions for families impacted by trauma. FITT serves as a national resource for improving the delivery of family-centered, trauma-informed services and for increasing the availability of effective family trauma treatments.

Maryland Psychiatric Research Center

The primary mission of the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) is the study of the manifestations, causes and innovative treatments of schizophrenia. The origins of neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases are also studied. The MPRC is a joint program of the University of Maryland School of Medicine/Department of Psychiatry and the State of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Its annual budget of approximately $10 million is comprised of multiple federal, state and private sources. Research and treatment resources include two inpatient wards (comprised of 50 beds), the Maryland Brain Collection, basic neuroscience laboratories, a brain imaging program and three outpatient research clinics. All MPRC programs conduct extensive training, seminars and conferences to disseminate new knowledge concerning the causes and treatment of schizophrenia and related disorders.

The Outpatient Research Program and Treatment Research Program conduct studies of the etiology, pathophysiology, neuroanatomy, phenomenology and therapeutics of schizophrenia. The Schizophrenia Related Disorders Program conducts studies with community and familial cohorts of schizophrenia spectrum traits and subjects with tardive dyskinesia. This program hosts a genotype/phenotype program, a first episode and early intervention clinic and hosts the MPRC-wide normal volunteer unit.

These clinical research programs are supported by neuroimaging, human physiology and cognitive laboratories, as well as an Intervention Research Center infrastructure, including biostatistics. Basic neuroscience and disease pathology are the focus of the Neuroscience Program, with laboratories dedicated to neurodevelopment, neurobiology of stress, behavioral genetics, neuronal physiology, neuroanatomy, electron microscopy and brain biochemistry.

The close connection of clinical and neuroscience scientists has created a leading center for translational research. The Maryland Brain Collection at the MPRC provides a unique resource for this work, and advanced technologies of the post-genomic era are applied.

Center on Behavioral Treatment of Schizophrenia

Directed by Alan S. Bellack, PhD, this Center focuses on the development and evaluation of behavioral treatments for schizophrenia and the integration of psychosocial and pharmacological treatments. Dr. Bellack has earned an international reputation for his seminal work on social skills training over the past 25 years. He has developed one of the two most widely used models for conducting skills training, and has published a series of widely cited papers and books on rehabilitation strategies, the role of cognitive factors in social behavior and skills acquisition, and on social perception in schizophrenia. A major focus of work at the Center is substance abuse by schizophrenia patients. The Center has developed a highly structured intervention that combines skills training, education, and contingency management procedures. This intervention has proven to be highly applicable to people with schizophrenia, and has great promise for reducing substance use in this population. A NIDA funded randomized clinical trial to evaluate the treatment is currently underway. Other NIDA funded projects include longitudinal studies to examine the process of change in substance use by people with schizophrenia, and factors associated with victimization and abuse among women with schizophrenia.

VA Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC)

The Capitol Network (VISN 5) MIRECC is a center for research, training and service for veterans with schizophrenia and their families. The work -- particularly in regard to substance abuse, women and mental health service systems and health care economics -- extends to veterans with other severe and persistent mental illnesses (SPMI) as well. The center is based at the Baltimore Division of the Veterans Affairs Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS), and involves substantial integration with the scientific expertise on schizophrenia and mental health services at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

Active links and programs are maintained throughout the VISN, especially the Perry Point Division of the VAMHCS and the Washington VAMC. The MIRECC is a multilevel program that extends from development and testing of new antipsychotic medications through psychosocial treatment, rehabilitation and mental health services research. New findings are disseminated through comprehensive education programs for VISN staff, veterans, their families and other VAMCs. Clinical demonstration programs are conducted to test new strategies and to serve as models for dissemination.

Consistent with the overall mission of the VISN 5 MIRECC to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of services for veterans with schizophrenia and their families, the MIRECC Research Program emphasizes research that promotes the translation of research findings into evidence-based practice. The MIRECC supports a large group of independent investigators, including seven physicians, six psychologists, two pharmacists and a biostatistician, along with two post-doctoral Fellows and a number of research technicians and support staff.

Psychiatry Translational Research Laboratories

Located on the 9th floor of the Medical School Teaching Facility (MSTF) building on the medical school campus in downtown Baltimore, the Psychiatry Translational Research Laboratories brings together clinician scientists and basic scientists who share a common interest in translational neuroscience research to improve the lives of those who suffer from mental illness. Our space includes molecular and cellular biology laboratories, areas devoted to behavioral pharmacology, as well as shared procedure space for conducting neuroscience research.

Related Links

  • CSMH (Center for School Mental Health)
  • Innovations Institute 
  • MHSIC (Mental Health Systems Improvement Collaborative)