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Experts on mental illness, multiple sclerosis are newest chairs

School of Medicine names leading researchers to head clinical neuroscience teams

John Krystal
John Krystal

Summer brought the appointment of two renowned physician–scientists as chairs of the School of Medicine’s departments of psychiatry and neurology.

John H. Krystal, M.D., an internationally recognized expert on the neurobiology and treatment of schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), was named chair of the Department of Psychiatry and chief of psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH), effective July 1. David A. Hafler, M.D., a leader in the worldwide effort to better understand the molecular basis of multiple sclerosis (MS), was named chair of the Department of Neurology and chief of neurology at YNHH. Hafler’s appointment was effective September 1.

Krystal, the Robert L. McNeil Jr., Professor of Translational Research, is director of the Center for the Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism, funded at Yale by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He also heads the Clinical Neuroscience Division of the Veterans Affairs National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Veterans Affairs Alcohol Research Center at Yale, both located at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System (VACHS) in West Haven, Conn.

Since 2000, Krystal has served as the department’s deputy chair for research.

“Yale has always been a remarkable environment for translational neuroscience in neuropsychiatry,” Krystal says. “One challenge I have as a new chair is to look for opportunities to bring our faculty together, to take our research to the next level. We can do that by capitalizing on existing strengths and developing new strengths in areas such as neurostimulation treatment, molecular genetics, neuroimaging, and neuroinflammation.”

The Department of Psychiatry has 149 primary faculty members and 13 with secondary appointments. In 2008, it ranked second nationally among medical school psychiatry departments receiving funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with a total of $53 million in NIH awards for the year. Its clinical and research programs are widely recognized for their innovation and quality, and its substance abuse research program was ranked first in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in 2008 and 2009. Members of the department provide care to patients at Yale-New Haven Hospital, the VACHS, and the Connecticut Mental Health Center.

Krystal came to Yale as a medical student in 1980, after receiving his undergraduate degree at the University of Chicago. He completed medical school and psychiatry residency training at Yale before joining the faculty in 1988. His work is distinguished by its emphasis on translational neuroscience, the effort to combine emerging brain imaging and molecular genetic technologies with psychopharmacology to better understand alterations in brain function associated with psychiatric disorders.

Krystal’s research on the glutamate neurotransmitter system in the brain has led to new experimental treatments for several psychiatric disorders. Krystal is editor of Biological Psychiatry, a leading journal in the fields of psychiatry and neuroscience.

Krystal succeeds Benjamin S. Bunney, M.D., who served as chair for two decades until his retirement in 2008. William H. Sledge, M.D., served the department as interim chair during the past year.

Hafler, an expert on the mechanisms of autoimmunity and inflammatory diseases of the central nervous system, was previously director of molecular immunology in the department of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He was the Jack, Sadie, and David Breakstone Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School.

He was drawn to Yale, he says, by “the opportunity to build a great program in clinical neurology which integrates a wonderful program in neuroscience, a wonderful program in immunology and a wonderful program in genetics. It really affords us the opportunity to bring things together around human disease scientifically.”

Hafler’s research and clinical expertise includes demyelinating diseases, especially MS, as well as experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, genetic predisposition to disease, human T-lymphotrophic virus (HTLV-1) infections, and molecular immunology.

Hafler has more than 270 publications in the field of autoimmunity and immunology and serves on the editorial boards for the Journal of Clinical Investigation and the Journal of Experimental Medicine. He is a co-founder and president of the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies, a member of the executive council of the International Society of Neuroimmunology, and is active with the NIH’s Immune Tolerance Network and Autoimmunity Prevention Center.

He is a founding member of the International MS Genetic Consortium, a group recently formed to define the genetic causes of MS that includes scientists from University of Cambridge and University of California, San Francisco.

Hafler graduated magna cum laude in 1974 from Emory University with combined B.S. and M.S. degrees in biochemistry, and from the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1978. He completed his internship in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins and a neurology residency at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute, where he was chief resident. He received training in immunology at Rockefeller University and was a fellow in neurology and immunology at Harvard, where he joined the faculty in 1984.

Hafler has been elected to membership in the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the American Neurological Association, and the Alpha Omega Society, and he was a Harvey Weaver Scholar of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

He is an associate member of the Broad Institute at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is spearheading an initiative to elucidate the genetic basis of MS.

Hafler recently received the first five-year National Multiple Sclerosis Collaborative Center Award with Broad Institute director Eric S. Lander, Ph.D., co-chair of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Hafler was principal investigator on the NIH Autoimmunity Prevention Center Grant at Harvard, and is a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Merit Award recipient from the NIH.