The collaboration that advanced the discovery of ketamine as a treatment for depression was among four Yale award winners at the Association for Clinical and Translational Science (ACTS) annual meeting held in Chicago from April 20 through 22.
Gerald Sanacora, MD, PhD, George D. and Esther S. Gross Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Yale Depression Research Program, accepted the ACTS Team Science Award, on behalf of an interdisciplinary team that he led, which contributed to the breakthrough in depression treatment. The advance represents the first new treatment for this widespread and debilitating disease in decades. “This award recognizes the work of a cadre of scientists and clinicians who, following the surprising discovery of ketamine’s rapid onset of antidepressant effects in the late 1990s, was able to move rapidly to understand and develop this transformative approach,” said Sanacora in a recorded acceptance speech.
“Dr. Sanacora led an exceptional team to bring this paradigm-shift in depression care to patients,” said John Krystal, MD, co-director of the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation (YCCI), Robert L. McNeil Jr. Professor of Translational Research, chair and professor of psychiatry, and professor of neuroscience and of psychology. Krystal, one of the team of researchers who discovered the antidepressant effects of ketamine in the 1990s, said of Sanacora, “he has been an essential partner in advancing this important work.”
The Team Science Award acknowledges the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the translation of research discoveries into clinical applications, and recognizes individuals, like Sanacora, who are committed to the advancement and practice of team science. The award winners were selected by ACTS, a national organization that supports Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) programs across the U.S., of which YCCI is one of the most prominent.
In his acceptance, Sanacora recognized the many centers, groups, and patients at Yale who were vital to the discovery and implementation of ketamine. These include the Yale Division of Molecular Psychiatry, the Yale MRI Center, and the Yale PET Center, which helped elucidate the mechanisms of the drug’s antidepressant action; as well as the hospital research and clinical neuroscience research units that enabled the demonstration of the safety and efficacy of the treatment in controlled clinical trials. Last, he recognized the Yale Interventional Psychiatry Service, which gave Sanacora’s team the opportunity to rapidly implement and study ketamine treatment in real world clinical settings.
Tara Bautista, PhD, a TL1 postdoctoral fellow in the Yale Stress Center, was named Outstanding Postdoctoral Trainee for her research exploring behavioral health interventions for vulnerable populations, particularly a mindfulness-based intervention aimed at stressed parents of toddlers. Two Yale physician-scientists were also honored at the meeting with awards from the American Federation for Medical Research (AFMR), a co-supporter of the conference. Physician-researcher Carlos Oliveira, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics (infectious disease), was given the AFMR Junior Physician Investigator Award for his work addressing the long-term effects of COVID-19 in children; and Kevin Sheth, MD, professor of neurology and of neurosurgery, was named AFMR Outstanding Investigator for identifying biological targets with the capacity for translation into clinical treatments. An example is the potential of glyburide to prevent brain swelling in stroke patients. That work was facilitated by advancements in portable MRI systems, which Sheth is developing and evaluating. “Coupling biological translations to technological innovation is at the heart of what we do,” said Sheth.
“These awards are a testament to the talent of our investigators here at Yale, and to our institution’s commitment to fostering a collaborative culture that allows team science to thrive,” said Brian Smith, MD, deputy dean for clinical and translational research, YCCI co-director, and professor of laboratory medicine, of biomedical engineering, of medicine (hematology), and of pediatrics. “We are proud to support that innovative work of our clinical scientists and the contributions they make to the advancement of health care.”