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UM Miller School of Medicine Names New Chair of Psychiatry

11/5/2009

One of the world's leading experts in the field of psychiatry, Charles B. Nemeroff, M.D., Ph.D., is joining the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and UHealth – University of Miami Health System, as professor and chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Nemeroff spent the past 18 years building the psychiatry department at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta into one of the top ten departments in the United States. Currently he is the Reunette W. Harris Professor of Psychiatry at Emory.

"The Miller School of Medicine needs a strong leader in psychiatry and behavioral health and we have found that person in Charlie Nemeroff," said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School and CEO of UHealth. "Like other large metropolitan areas, South Florida has a sizeable population of individuals with significant mental health disorders, and the presence of a world class leader in psychiatry can positively impact the community in a broad and deep manner."

Dr. Nemeroff says academic psychiatry departments have three main missions: research, clinical care and teaching. In the research realm, he plans to build on already very strong areas at UM such as aging and its related complications, including memory loss and depression; HIV, especially as it impacts women patients and caregivers; and drug abuse. He also plans to enhance the research portfolio by recruiting experts in mood disorders, schizophrenia and the interface of physical illness and psychiatry.

On the clinical front, the medical campus currently has more than 300 hospital beds licensed for psychiatry patients. "I am extraordinarily dedicated to working closely with the leadership at Jackson Memorial Hospital, which has a very large psychiatry service, to provide the best care possible," says Dr. Nemeroff. "In addition, I plan to expand the department's role in psychiatry at University of Miami Hospital and enhance its presence at the Miami VA Medical Center."

Because of his role in developing screening tools for the assessment of depression, anxiety and eating disorders in college students, Dr. Nemeroff hopes to help ensure the best mental health care for students at all levels at the University of Miami.

When it comes to medical students, Dr. Nemeroff says he is committed to encouraging the best medical students to go into psychiatry and to developing a nationally competitive residency program. He has plans to reach out to physicians in the community through continuing medical education opportunities.

"As academic psychiatrists we should be a resource for the entire community, and we have an obligation to take evidence-based medicine and pass that knowledge on to physicians in the community to help elevate the level of care everywhere," says Dr. Nemeroff. "I like seeing patients, especially receiving referrals of hard-to-treat patients, and I believe I can help serve the South Florida psychiatric community and that should absolutely be part of the job we do."

Over the course of his career Dr. Nemeroff has compiled a remarkable record of scientific contributions to the field of psychiatry. For the past two decades he has focused his research on the relationship between child abuse and neglect as a risk factor for the development of depression and anxiety disorders in adulthood. In particular, he has examined through brain imaging and neurochemical testing what happens to children's brains when they are exposed to traumatic life events that leave them vulnerable in adulthood.

"It turns out that individuals with depression and a history of child abuse or neglect physically have a different brain than patients with depression without child abuse," explains Dr. Nemeroff. "In patients with chronic depression, two years or longer, two-thirds of those patients had a history of child abuse (sexual or physical), loss of a parent or severe neglect."

Dr. Nemeroff plans to use brain imaging, along with genetic markers, to tackle one of the big issues in psychiatry today -- the failure of patients to respond to treatment. Dr. Nemeroff explains that it is critical because "antidepressants take three to five weeks to work, and during that time a patient's family is affected, their work suffers, and the risk for suicide increases. It is very important to match a patient with a treatment that will work, and hopefully one day soon we will be able to predict who will respond to what treatment."

Another key area of research for Dr. Nemeroff is what he calls the "curious" relationship between depression and heart disease. "I am very excited about moving this area forward at UM because of the very strong cardiology program already in place at the medical school," says Dr. Nemeroff. "Surprisingly, depression is as great a risk factor for developing heart disease as is smoking, and even one episode of depression can increase that risk."

Many patients with cancer have concurrent depression, and treatment of their depression improves their quality of life and adherence to their cancer treatment. "There is some evidence that treatment of depression might even increase survival time," adds Dr. Nemeroff. "I am particularly interested in studying whether depression, with all of its biological effects, is a risk factor for the development of certain forms of cancer."

Dr. Nemeroff received his M.D. and Ph.D. in neurobiology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His residency training in psychiatry took place at both the University of North Carolina and Duke University. Following his residency, he joined the faculty at Duke as professor of psychiatry and pharmacology and chief of the Division of Biological Psychiatry. He moved to Emory in 1991 as chairman of psychiatry.

There he took an average department to become one of the top ten in the country.

Dr. Nemeroff will begin his new position on December 1. "I believe all the pieces are in place to allow me to lead the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine to be one of the preeminent departments in the country," Nemeroff said. "The support of Dean Goldschmidt, of the medical school leadership team and of the University of Miami during the recruitment process has been phenomenal and I look forward to working with them in achieving goals for the department and goals for the school."