Medical School Collaborations

University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) Department of Psychiatry and Assumption College Collaborative Pilot Research Program (CPRP)

Overview

The CPRP program is designed to establish research partnerships between our faculties and institutions, with the scientific goal of increasing our understanding of brain disorders and behavior. This program is open to all Assumption College and UMass Department of Psychiatry faculty, and aims to foster and accelerate collaborative grant submissions for larger federal and non-federal funding.

Assumption undergraduate and graduate students benefit from working on cutting-edge research with faculty from both institutions.

Four Collaborative Projects Awarded Pilot Funding

Kristina Deligiannidis, M.D., Maria Kalpidou, PhD, and Regina Kuersten-Hogan, PhD

Study Title:  ‘A microgenetic study of perinatal depression and its effects on family and infant functioning’

Interdisciplinary collaboration to better understand effects of maternal perinatal depression on both parenting dynamics and infant development, using both behavioral and biological measures.  Impact of perinatal depression on co-parenting, parenting behaviors and infant outcomes such as attachment behaviors and developmental outcomes will be examined.  Hormonal levels of oxytocin will be assessed in both mother and infant, and maternal brain activity will be assessed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (resting state brain function patterns).  The longer range goal is to define neuroendocrine (hormonal) and neuroimaging (brain activity patterns) in women at risk for post-partum depression (PPD).  Identifying how perinatal depression may impact co-parenting and infant outcomes hoped to be useful for preventative interventions.

Study takes advantage of Dr. Deligiannidis’ experience with perinatal psychiatric populations, reproductive endocrinology and brain imaging AND Dr. Kalpidou’s expertise in social and emotional development in children, mother-infant attachment, and other types of infant outcome – attachment behaviors and parenting.  Dr. Kuersten-Hogan has considerable training in and clinical experience with assessment of children and families including family dynamics and transitions to parenthood.

 

Jean A. Frazier, M.D. and Paula Fitzpatrick, PhD

Project Title:  Evaluating Social Synchrony in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

The collaborative objective is to explore social/interactional behavioral synchrony in adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, and to gather pilot data to lay foundation for development of clear set of hypotheses for evaluating neural circuitry involved.  Children with autism spectrum disorders exhibit a variety of social impairments, most of which have lifelong impact.  Social interaction implicitly involves coordination of one’s body in synchrony with others, which in turn involves a constellation of motor, perceptual, attentional and social processes.  This study will employ the use of a simple interpersonal task (use of wrist pendulums) to examine social motor coordination as compared to neurotypical adolescents.  The long-range goal is to further our understanding of etiology of social deficits in ASD and unveil new avenues for interventions that may improve social skills in ASD children.

Dr. Frazier has extensive, highly regarded clinical (assessment and intervention) and research expertise (particularly brain imaging) with children and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum.  Dr. Fitzpatrick is experienced in the rather novel application of time series research methodologies and data analyses to study perceptual and motor coordination in typically developing children which she has recently extended to investigation of the development of interpersonal coordination.  This collaboration allows extension of her work to an adolescent population, both neurodevelopmentally typical and atypical – and it enables Dr. Frazier to expand her investigation of social deficits in a novel and naturalistic way, at the non-verbal level of interpersonal synchrony (or lack thereof), as a means of tapping both etiology and potential intervention in social impairments faced by ASD youth.

 

Carl Fulwiler, M.D., PhD and Sarah Cavanagh, PhD

Project Title:  Cognitive Predictors of Neural and Emotional Response to Mindfulness-Based Interventions

The purpose of this project is to investigate whether cognitive resources in general, and working memory specifically, can predict neural and emotional response in mindfulness based training.  An orchestrated investigation of combined behavioral, psychophysiological and functional brain imaging measures will address the question of whether an individual’s potential beneficial response to a mindfulness based intervention can be predicted.  Mindfulness training has been demonstrated to decrease symptoms of various psychiatric disorders, particularly anxiety and depressive disorder, and it has been theorized, that successful emotion regulation, and the ability to employ mindfulness to respond adaptively to negative emotions may depend upon cognitive resources.  The long-range goal is to understand the mechanisms by which Mindfulness Based Intervention impacts emotional disorders and to identify individuals best suited to this type of intervention.

Dr. Fulwiler has extensive experience with mindfulness training as well as with physiological measures, as well as with functional neuroimaging – and the UMMS environment is exceptionally well suited to this work.  There is a long tradition of mindfulness training at UMMS, where this intervention program originated, but there are substantial imaging resources available as well.  Dr. Cavanagh has significant experience in both affective and cognitive behavioral neuroscience.  Furthermore, it is important to note that Drs. Fulwiler and Cavanagh are extending the collaborative reach of their work to include Tufts pre-doctoral students.

 

Karen Albert, MS, Leonard Doerfler, PhD, Monika Kolodziej, PhD, Daniel Melle, MSW, LICSW, Rosalie Torres Stone, PhD, and Gina Vincent, PhD

Title:  Determining Predictors of Adolescent Readmission to Inpatient Substance Abuse Programs – A Pilot Study of Post-Discharge Events

This is a collaborative venture between Assumption College, Community HealthLink, and the UMMS Department of Psychiatry focusing on adolescents in in-patient substance abuse treatment.  The study objective is to determine which factors predict readmission to inpatient treatment.  Relapse and readmission are very common occurrences in adolescents who receive treatment for substance abuse, with as much as 12% readmission within three months.  Youth from the ‘Motivating Youth Recovery Program’ at Community HealthLink will be followed over a 6-month period following treatment release, using internet-based monitoring for a variety of factors.  Both peer and family influences are taken into account, as well as individual differences, including age differences which may be developmentally associated with differences in the relative influences of both peers and family in younger (age 13-15 year olds) and older (16-18 year old) adolescents.  This work takes into account both risk factors for relapse and risk factors for delinquent behavior to investigate whether readamission can be predicted.  The long-term intention is to shape treatment accordingly to prevent readmission.

This study involves a three-way collaboration which capitalizes on the joint clinical expertise, both in clinical services and clinical research of all collaborators including a wide range of experience with outcome assessments as well as youth in particular, including both substance abuse and delinquency.  Faculty from Assumption College, Community Healthlink, the UMMS Center for Mental Health Services, and UMMS Psychiatry Department will work together on this project. Dr. Doerfler will invite Assumption College Counseling Psychology Program students and undergraduate psychology majors to become involved with this project.