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Chairman's Message

mark rapaport  
Mark Hyman Rapaport, MD

One important area of psychiatric research is the impact of mother-child interactions on the development of psychologically healthy individuals.  In this edition of BrainWaves, we highlight the exciting work of several of our investigators who are studying different aspects of maternal-child interaction.  Dr. Claire Coles and her research group have been at the forefront of investigations of fetal alcohol syndrome and the persistent impact of maternal cocaine use and cigarette smoking during pregnancy on the life of the child.  Dr. Coles is one of the true pioneers in this area of research, and her world-class team of clinician-scientists working with her are not only experts in the assessment and diagnosis and the neurobiology of substance use during pregnancy on children, but are leaders in the development of cognitive remediation strategies. In fact, Dr. Coles and her team have developed cognitive remediation games that markedly decrease the impulse behavior in children born with alcohol spectrum disorders. 

Mar Sanchez, PhD, is our featured faculty member for this edition.  Dr. Sanchez is one of those quiet innovators who studies maternal-infant bonding in non-human primates and has investigated how the strength of this bond impacts the later development of these non-human primates.  This work is groundbreaking in facilitating our understanding of the long-term impact of dysfunctional maternal bonding not only on the brain but also the body of the animal.   Her work provides a valuable bridge between basic science and our clinical experts at the Atlanta Trauma Alliance (formerly the Emory NIA and Grady Trauma projects). 

This edition of BrainWaves also includes a celebration of our graduates.  We recently had the opportunity to celebrate 56 individuals who have graduated from our psychiatry residency and fellowship programs, psychology internship programs, and psychology postdoctoral programs.  This is truly one of the most joyous events in our academic year.  Our new section on philanthropy highlights the wonderful work and generosity of the Blue Angels, who help support our Emory Healthcare Veterans Program. 

In closing, I wanted to invite you to an upcoming event.  On October 23, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison will lead a presentation about the life of the brilliant poet, Robert Lowell, who suffered with bipolar disorder.  Be on the lookout for more information about this exciting event in the early fall.

I hope you enjoy this edition of BrainWaves.

Emory Professor Explores How Early Social Experiences Affect Development

This summer, Mar Sanchez, PhD, found herself in an unfamiliar place, a Tibetan monastery in India, fielding what’s become a familiar question: Could she weigh in on the debate between nature versus nurture? As a core scientist at Yerkes, she studies both environmental and genetic factors in primate development and, as such, is well-primed for such questions.

“The argument of nature versus nurture has been in the field for many decades as two opposite camps of thought,” says Sanchez, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory.  “But we now know that it is not either/or but both.”

Mar Sanchez, PhD

While Dr. Sanchez was in India as part of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, her work primarily focused on the impact of early life stress and maternal care on primate development of stress and emotional regulatory neurocircuits. One finding is maternal neglect is worse for infant primates than physical abuse. “The lack of proper care seems to be worse than physical pain,” she says, with neglected infant primates showing long-term reduced serotonin levels. In addition, she describes an impact on long-term inflammation levels, saying, “High levels of maternal rejection were associated with higher activation of peripheral inflammatory pathways.” Dr. Sanchez’s research shows these higher levels of inflammation and lower levels of serotonin are subsequently linked to higher anxiety and problem behaviors during adolescence.

Dr. Sanchez has also discovered genetic and epigenetic factors that may explain why female primates who have been abused or neglected are at risk of perpetuating that maltreatment with their own offspring. “There are epigenetic changes in some genes,” says Sanchez. “So we are really focusing now on studies that try to understand the transmission from one generation to another.” That research is in collaboration with Emory colleagues Torsten Klengel and Brian Dias.

Professionally, she hopes her work can someday translate to effective behavioral or genetic interventions in humans. “If we can identify the mechanisms in the germline we could potentially disrupt the transmission to future generations,” says Sanchez.

A Lifetime of Research, Prevention and Care for Prenatal Exposure to Drugs and Alcohol

The Center for Maternal Substance Abuse and Child Development (MSACD) is a unique resource. It began 40 years ago as a research project when there was little understanding that prenatal alcohol and drug exposure was teratogenic (that is, potentially caused birth defects and brain damage).  Mothers who were drinking and using drugs in pregnancy were identified and their babies’ growth and development evaluated from birth through young adulthood.   It soon became evident that prenatally exposed children had physical defects, problems with growth, and most seriously, damage to the central nervous system leading to learning and behavioral disorders.   Currently in midlife, adults (first seen at birth) are being interviewed about their health and social functioning.  A second research project is working in western Ukraine to evaluate the benefits of nutritional supplementation to reduce effects of alcohol exposure and to provide methods for early identification of such effects to allow for early intervention.

As problems associated with prenatal exposure were revealed, MSACD expanded to include prevention and treatment, focusing on both mothers and children.   In 2012, we began MotherToBaby.GA, (Toll Free: 866-626-6847), an information service, whose goal is to  improve birth outcomes by providing information to the public and professionals about the risk of exposures to drugs, alcohol, diseases and environmental exposures during pregnancy and breast feeding.  We had more than 1,700 contacts last year with concerned women, families and health care professionals.  To treat affected children and their families, the Emory Neurobehavioral and Exposure Clinic (ENEC)  (404 712-9810) provides diagnosis, psychotherapy, medication management and special education services to hundreds of children affected by alcohol, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as the adverse environmental factors associated with parental substance abuse.  The children served at ENEC have been the inspiration for the development of several manualized treatment programs used both locally and internationally.

The Center relies on federal and state agencies, as well as foundation support to continue our work. “We have been the beneficiary of philanthropic support to continue the educational and clinical care carried out by MSACD and in the future, we would like to expand services to more children and families, while continuing to develop effective care for this underserved population if further support becomes available,” says Claire Coles, PhD, Director of MSACD.  In particular, MSACD would like to expand the MotherToBaby.GA services to ensure more drug and alcohol-free pregnancies and provide for more clinical care to families of affected children.

Upcoming Events!

Some upcoming events that will be occurring in the coming months are:

The Mark and Barbara Klein International Consensus Conference will be held at Emory in September. The focus of this conference is Generating a Research Agenda in Functional Neurological Disorders. This conference would not be possible without the philanthropic support from Mark and Barbara Klein, and we are grateful to them for making this difficult to diagnose and treat disorder an area we can break ground in.

An event you will be getting an invitation to attend is An Evening with Kay Redfield Jamison, MA, PhD, on October 23, at the Emory Brain Health Center. Dr. Jamison is the Dalio Professor in Mood Disorders at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and has written books about bipolar disorder and creativity including “An Unquiet Mind,” her classic bestselling memoir.


Blue Angels Foundation Supports the Emory Healthcare Veterans Program


Emory hosted members of the Blue Angels Foundation Board for a tour and special meeting with a veteran.

The Emory Healthcare Veterans Program (EHVP) is thrilled to partner with the Blue Angels Foundation. Their generous gift supports efforts to provide comprehensive care and treatment for post-9/11 Veterans and service members suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The Emory’s Veterans Program is making great strides in the wounded Veteran community. We look forward to working together to make a big difference for our nation’s service men and women and their families affected by PTSD,” says Mike Campbell, president of the Blue Angels Foundation. The Blue Angels mission is to support wounded veterans.

The Emory Healthcare Veterans Program operates an intensive outpatient treatment program for Veterans that aims to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. The program is a comprehensive, two-week treatment regimen helping Veterans re-engage in daily life and promoting physical and mental health wellness to Veterans and service members from across the country. For more information about the EHVP click here.

“This generous gift will help us continue our innovative Veteran health care efforts and serve more individuals at no cost to the Veterans. Together with the Blue Angels Foundation, we are healing the wounds of service,” says Emory Healthcare Veterans Program director Barbara O. Rothbaum, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine.


On June 6, 2018, we graduated 56 trainees in Psychiatry, Internal Medicine-Psychiatry,  Psychology interns and Postdoctoral programs, as well as fellowships  in Addiction Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry and Psychosomatic Medicine.

(Nadine Kaslow, PhD, (left) received the Distinguished Member Award of the Psi Chi international Honor Society in Psychology from William McDonald, MD.)

William McDonald, MD, Vice Chair of Education, hosted the ceremony where teaching awards from the various groups, as well as academic accolades were awarded.

Graduation was followed by a reception for friends and family, with various groups holding specific celebrations at different times. For pictures from graduation click here.


Cathy Rice, PhD, comments on the prevalence of autism and how to interpret the findings in an article about the increased number.  Read more here.

Nadine Kaslow, PhD, who is a world expert in teaching and studying suicide was in demand for interviews after the prominent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain within a few days’ time.  Click here to read more.

Erica Lee, PhD, counsels victims of violence as part of her work at Grady Health System. Read more here.


This section will highlight different aspects of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences that people may not be aware of.

The Emory Brain Health Center has a Facebook page!

Please look at this page often to hear many of our patients inspiring stories as well as to learn about cutting edge research that is taking place at the Brain Health Center.

On Friday, July 20, a reunion for former and current students of Walden Early Childhood Center, now the Early Emory Center for Child Development and Enrichment, occurred at Wisteria Lanes at the Emory Conference Center. Past and current students and their families took part in the celebration.

Gail McGee, PhD, the founder of the Walden Early Childhood program was honored for her years of work in developing this unique program at the Emory Autism Center as she enters into semi-retirement. A fund has been set up for scholarships to honor Dr. McGee.

Michael Morrier, PhD, who has been with the Walden/Early Emory since 1988, serving in many capacities at the Emory Autism Center will assume the responsibilities as Director of Early Emory. We are looking forward to all he will bring to this position in the coming years.


Your support will help us to partner together for Atlanta and Beyond. To make a gift to the Department of Psychiatry please click here.


If you have any comments or suggestions please contact Phyllis Rosen LCSW at prosen@emory.edu