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John Krystal, MD

Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Professor of Translational Research and Professor of Psychiatry and of Neuroscience; Co-Director, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation; Chair, Department of Psychiatry; Chief of Psychiatry, Yale-New Haven Hospital; Director: NIAAA Center for the Translational Neuroscience of Alcoholism; Director, Clinical Neuroscience Division, VA National Center for PTSD

Complex but common mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, and depression continue to challenge scientists, who seek ever better treatments for patients. John H. Krystal, MD, has made a career of delving to molecular levels of the brain to better understand how these psychiatric disorders function, and finding novel treatments for them in order to improve the lives of patients and their families.

One of these novel treatments, for which Dr. Krystal is well known, made use of the street drug ketamine, infamously known as “Special K.” Dr. Krystal and a team of investigators successfully used the drug in the 1990’s to safely and transiently produce in healthy people symptoms and disturbances in brain function associated with schizophrenia and to probe the neurobiology of alcohol intoxication and alcoholism. His laboratory then discovered the rapid antidepressant properties of ketamine in humans. Ketamine is now administered widely for treatment-resistant symptoms of depression and one form of ketamine is now in Phase III clinical trials.

Dr. Krystal has mentored several YCCI Scholars who study how the mechanisms of the brain at the molecular level impact behavior, relating to such disorders as cocaine addiction, mood disorder, delusions, and schizophrenia.

“I learned very early on,” he said, of the days when he was a mentee himself, “to ask the important question, rather than the easy question, and then to design the most powerful experiment that could destroy it: what we used to call the ‘killer experiment.’ If the hypothesis could withstand these kinds of tests, then it might be more powerful.” Dr. Krystal feels that it is an important part of the scientific process to mentor young investigators, and pass on the lessons he has learned. “In some way, the way I can best have an impact on my field is by training people who will be future innovators.”