Irvine, Calif., Nov. 16, 2023—Diego A. Pizzagalli, Ph.D. – a leading researcher into the causes, manifestation and treatment of mood disorders, particularly major depression – has been named the founding director of a transdisciplinary depression research institute at the University of California, Irvine, following a nationwide search. The institute is supported by a record $55 million estate gift from philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand.
Pizzagalli comes to UCI from Harvard University and McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. He is the founding director of their Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, where over 60 investigators work to advance understanding of depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders, with the goal of improved treatments.
“UCI has a unique and unparalleled opportunity to establish a world-class research institute focused on the mental health issue of depression, which is extremely important for individuals, families and society,” said Pramod Khargonekar, vice chancellor for research. “Our campus excels in interdisciplinary, collaborative research, and we are very excited and fortunate to have Dr. Pizzagalli join UCI to provide scientific and organizational leadership for the depression research institute and make great contributions to the campus’s collective mission to produce discoveries about and treatments for this debilitating disorder.”
Joining UCI in January 2025, Pizzagalli will be tasked with creating a world-class institute. His responsibilities will include heading the effort to recruit faculty, leading research teams, attracting more major research grants and enhancing support for the current gift endowment. He will also hold faculty appointments in the departments of Psychiatry & Human Behavior (School of Medicine), Neurobiology and Behavior (School of Biological Sciences), and Biomedical Engineering (The Henry Samueli School of Engineering).
“I am excited and honored to join UCI and work collaboratively across multiple schools and departments to launch a uniquely cross-disciplinary research institute that will span and integrate approaches to better understand, treat and, ultimately, prevent depression,” Pizzagalli said. “Building on considerable talents and strengths across UCI schools, the vision for the institute will be to embrace a ‘bench-to-bedside’ mission, in which scientific breakthroughs will be translated into faster, better and more personalized treatments for depression and more efficacious prevention strategies.”
The Burnand gift in 2022 is believed to be the largest philanthropic donation to a U.S. university for research focused solely on depression, which is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the nation. The gift created the Noel Drury, M.D. Institute for Translational Depression Discoveries. Envisioned is a transdisciplinary entity that focuses on innovative approaches to the mechanisms behind depression; diagnosis of the disorder; and personalized, scalable therapies for it.
UCI is distinctively able to use the Burnand gift through the Noel Drury, M.D. Institute for Translational Depression Discoveries to conduct advanced research in myriad campus areas – from biology and the health sciences to engineering and the social sciences. The university already has well-established and influential centers for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (UCI MIND), behavior and learning (the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory and the Conte Center@UCI), and integrative health (the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute) that are potentially poised to also benefit from Burnand’s philanthropy.
The development of the Noel Drury, M.D. Institute for Translational Depression Discoveries has been governed by an executive committee: Frank LaFerla, dean of the School of Biological Sciences (chair); Michael J Stamos, dean of the School of Medicine; Magnus Egerstedt, dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering; and Khargonekar – who worked together during the search for a founding director. Tallie Z. Baram, Distinguished Professor of pediatrics, Donald Bren Professor and Danette “Dee Dee” Shepard Chair in Neurological Studies, led the search committee.
About Diego A. Pizzagalli
Over the past two decades, the main goals of Pizzagalli’s research have been to improve understanding of the psychological, environmental and neurobiological factors associated with mood disorders, especially major depression. To this end, he integrates behavioral, electrophysiological and neuroimaging approaches and, more recently, preclinical models to investigate depression and anhedonia (loss of pleasure).
From 2002 to 2010, Pizzagalli was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, where he served as the John and Ruth Hazel Associate Professor of the Social Sciences. In 2010, he was recruited to McLean Hospital to serve as the founding director of the newly established Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, as well as the director of the McLean Imaging Center. Under his leadership, CDASR has grown to more than 60 full-time staff and has been awarded over $60 million in funding.
Since September 2015, Pizzagalli has also been the director of research for McLean Hospital’s Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders. He is currently a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of McLean’s Silvio O. Conte Center for Basic Translational Mental Health Research, which is focused on the neurobiology of and novel treatment targets for depression.
Among many awards, Pizzagalli has received the Stuart T. Hauser, M.D., Ph.D., Mentorship Award in Psychiatry from Harvard Medical School, the Joel Elkes Research Award from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, a NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Award, the Anna-Monika Prize for research in the neurobiology and treatment of depressive disorders, and a MERIT award from the National Institute of Mental Health. Earlier this year, he also became a visiting professor at the University of Oxford.
Pizzagalli has published more than 360 papers and chapters, serves on the editorial board of 13 journals and is the principal editor of two journals. He earned an M.A. (1995) and Ph.D. (1998) at the University of Zurich.
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