Rajita Sinha, PhD
Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and Professor in the Child Study Center and of Neuroscience; Director, Yale Interdisciplinary Stress Center; Chief, Psychology Section in Psychiatry; Co-director of Education, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation
Rajita Sinha, PhD, has been fascinated by emotions since her youth, when she studied Indian classical dance, a disciplined practice filled with emotional expression. She later studied biological psychology and the physiological manifestations of emotion, working with addicts and people with psychiatric disorders. She was intrigued by brain mechanisms underlying stress, cravings and addiction. “The abundance of choices available in the world, and easy access to commodities, including highly palatable foods and drugs, challenges the body’s motivational systems in novel ways,” she said.
Today, Dr. Sinha is internationally known for her pioneering research on the neural and biobehavioral mechanisms linking stress to addiction. She directs the Yale Stress Center, which was started with one of the largest interdisciplinary Consortium grants from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of stress and self control on addictive behaviors and chronic disease. The collaborative research conducted at the Yale Stress Center by Dr. Sinha and other scientists includes the disciplines of neuroscience, genetics, psychiatry, basic neurobiology, diagnostic radiology, endocrinology, epidemiology and public health and clinical and behavioral outcomes. The Center is also developing and testing interventions to reverse the toxic effects of stress and loss of self control that drive addictive behaviors. Dr. Sinha is also examining the role of long-term stress and repeated stress exposures in alcohol and substance dependence to develop new therapies to reduce compulsive motivation for alcohol and drugs of abuse.
Dr. Sinha’s work has shown that addiction itself debilitates the ability to handle stress, which has led her to conduct studies on medications to strengthen the brain circuitry involved in the ability to regulate emotions and cravings. Stress and addictions are major risk factors for cancer and chronic diseases, prompting her to explore the biological underpinnings of these relationships. “We tend to divide up the body but that’s not how all diseases work,” she said. She has developed a clinical research core focused on developing large scale data sets to study genetic and environmental interactions that affect the risk of developing addictions and chronic disease.
She brings her interdisciplinary focus to her mentees and her role as co-director of education, where she provides guidance in connecting trainees and Scholars to colleagues in different disciplines. She is also focusing on increasing the diversity of both trainees and the faculty who mentor them. Having mentored dozens of young investigators, she enjoys helping them shape their ideas into actual scientific hypotheses and watching them get hooked on research.