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VISN 4 MIRECC Newsflash

Winter 2020


Year in Review

Our MIRECC, now in its 20th year and thematically focused on Precision Mental Health Care (PMHC), is made up of an energetic group of more than 40 investigators and more than 60 research staff in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. As we begin this new decade, I’d like to take a moment to congratulate our whole team on a productive and exciting year and share a few facts about our Center’s achievements:

In fiscal 2019, we worked on 58 active VA IRB-approved research projects, with $3.6 million in on-mission external grant funding. We authored more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and delivered more than 50 educational and clinical presentations. We supported seven clinical demonstration projects. We presented findings at many influential national meetings, including the VA HSR&D/QUERI annual meeting and the annual Million Veteran Program Science Meeting. Our training programs are thriving: we welcomed two new fellows this fall, and, with the support of our excellent faculty mentors and MIRECC pilot funding, five others are leading projects that enrich our Center’s emphasis on PMHC.  

Throughout this year, we’ve worked to improve communication within and between our sites. We’ve been strategizing to raise awareness of our Center’s resources and expertise—at our local facilities, at the VISN and national levels, as well as among our academic colleagues at Penn and Pitt. Looking ahead, we hope to continue to build beneficial partnerships within VA that can support us in engaging Veterans in mental health research more effectively and inclusively. Our success and alignment with VA priorities were reaffirmed earlier this year, when the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention renewed our Center for an additional five years of full support!

Thank you for keeping in touch and following our Center’s journey. Happy New Year!

David Oslin, M.D.

Director, VISN 4 MIRECC


MIRECC investigator Christine Ramsey, Ph.D. (Philadelphia) competed in the California International Marathon on December 8 in Sacramento and, finishing with a time of 2:41:11, successfully qualified for the 2020 U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials for the Summer Games in Tokyo. (She and other qualifying runners were recently featured by Runner's World.) The Trials will be held in Atlanta, Ga. this coming February. Dr. Ramsey has been pursuing elite marathon running for the past 15 years and previously competed in the 2012 and 2016 Trials as well as several other national championship events. Her passion for running extends beyond race courses; among her current research pursuits is examining how physical activity might be used to support depression care. She hopes to conduct VA research to examine the use of wearable activity monitors for measuring and monitoring physical activity and sleep in the context of depression care and how data collected from wearable technology can aid providers in delivering clinical mental health care.


Henry Kranzler, M.D. received a VA BLR&D Senior Clinical Scientist Award. This award is designed to provide outstanding senior scientists with flexible, longer-term support to maintain laboratory infrastructure, retain key staff, and explore transformative advances in their fields.

Shahrzad Mavandadi, Ph.D. was awarded VA HSR&D Merit funding for her project, Caregiver Self-Management of Stress (CG SOS): An Intervention for Employed Caregivers.

Sarah Forster, Ph.D. was awarded funding from the Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment Program of the VHA Innovators Network for her project, Rewarding Medication Adherence in Veterans with Serious Mental Illness. Her aim is to develop a prototype for a Contingency Management intervention to improve adherence to injectable antipsychotic medications.

Adam Bramoweth, Ph.D. was awarded HSR&D Merit funding for his project, Enhancing Access to Insomnia Care (EASI Care): Implementing Brief Behavioral Treatment for Insomnia in Primary Care Mental Health Integration Clinics.

Isabella Soreca, M.D was awarded VISN 4 Competitive Career Development funding for her project, Using Sleep Medicine to Improve Functional and Medical Outcomes in Patients with Severe Mental Illness: A Pilot and Feasibility Study.

David Volk, M.D., Ph.D. was awarded VA BLR&D Merit funding for his project, Dendritic Spine Deficits and Activated Microglia in Schizophrenia. The results of this study could help identify novel molecular targets for therapeutic intervention to remediate spine deficits and possibly cognitive dysfunction in Veterans with schizophrenia.

Steven Sayers, Ph.D. of the MIRECC and Eric Kuhn, Ph.D. of the National Center for PTSD were awarded funding for their project, A Randomized Controlled Trial of Coaching into Care with VA-CRAFT to Promote Veteran Engagement in PTSD Care.

Kyle Kampman, M.D. is co-leading a team [external] of Penn investigators including David Oslin, M.D., Jim McKay, Ph.D., and Kevin Lynch, Ph.D. that was awarded a $11.2 million grant from the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. The team will study the treatment of opioid use disorder and psychiatric disorders in the primary care setting.

Matthew Chinman, Ph.D. received a funding notice for his VA RR&D pilot study, Intervention Mapping to Develop a Peer-Based Rehabilitation Intervention for High Suicide Risk Veterans.


The new Penn PET Addiction Center of Excellence, of which Henry Kranzler, M.D. is a principal investigator, was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer, [external] the Daily Pennsylvanian [external], and WHYY [external]. Dr. Kranzler commented as an expert in the Inquirer [external] on the importance of findings recently published by Shelley Berger, Ph.D. of the University of Pennsylvania on how drinking alcohol can cause epigenetic changes that trigger the brain to want to drink more. He also commented as an expert in CNN Health [external] about a University College London study exploring the use of ketamine to treat harmful drinking.

Dominick DePhilippis, Ph.D. of the VA Philadelphia Center of Excellence in Substance Addiction Treatment and Education (CESATE) contributed posts to both VAntage Point, the external VA blog, and VA INSIDER [VA intranet only,] the internal blog, about how contingency management can help Veterans abstain from substance use.

The Building Employment Skills through Therapy for Veterans (BEST Vet) study, led by Steve Sayers, Ph.D., was featured in the latest issue of the CMCVAMC Veteran Newsletter, highlighting the experience of a Veteran benefitting from the program, which is designed to help Veterans with schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder rejoin the workforce. With the help of a trained supported employment specialist, the BEST Vet participant in Philadelphia was able to find and excel in a position with the National Park Service while continuing to receive treatment.

Dave Oslin, M.D. was quoted in U.S. Medicine [external] about the potential impact of pharmacogenetic testing. The article describes a recent paper [external] published in JAMA Network Open by the VA PRIME Care study’s Value Assessment Core, who found that most Veterans have at least one genetic variant that could affect their response to commonly prescribed medications. Dr. Oslin’s PRIME Care study was featured in the most recent issue of In Progress: Quarterly Highlights of Ongoing HSR&D Research, which focused on advancements in VA mental health care.

Michael Thase, M.D. was quoted in U.S. Medicine [external] about intranasal esketamine for depression treatment. He spoke to MD Magazine about the biopsychosocial risk factors of depression, defining and diagnosing depression, and treatment planning. At Psych Congress 2019, Dr. Thase presented a list [external] of the top 10 drug combinations that have been used to treat depression over the past 50 years as well as upcoming treatments that hold promise. He also discussed [external] the use of thyroid hormone in depression treatment.

Kyle Kampman, M.D.’s recent NIH funding for two opioid addiction studies at Penn was covered by the Philadelphia Business Journal [external].

Philip Gehrman, Ph.D. was quoted in a story in Texas Medical Center’s Pulse [external] about sleep apnea and a nerve-stimulating implant device for central sleep apnea that VA recently began using in treatment. Dr. Gehrman explained how the disorder can sometimes be misdiagnosed because symptoms may bear similarity to those of PTSD-related nightmares. He also explained that both aging and being male increase the risk of sleep apnea, pointing out that a large number of patients in the VA system are Vietnam-era Veterans. Dr. Gehrman was quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer [external] in a story about the health aspects of couples sleeping in separate bedrooms.

Cobb Scott, Ph.D. was quoted in a WHYY [external] story about a recent panel discussion by experts in public health, law enforcement, and psychiatry about how Philadelphia might prepare for state legalization of recreational marijuana.


Kehle-Forbes SM, Chen S, Polusny MA, Lynch KG, Koffel E, Ingram E, Foa EB, Van Horn DHA, Drapkin ML, Yusko DA, Oslin DW. A Randomized Controlled Trial Evaluating Integrated Versus Phased Application of Evidence-Based Psychotherapies for Military Veterans with Comorbid PTSD and Substance Use Disorders. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. PMID: 31675546 [external]

Smagula SF, Gujral S, Capps CS, Krafty RT. A Systematic Review of Evidence for a Role of Rest-Activity Rhythms in Dementia. Frontiers in Psychiatry. PMID: 31736798 [external]

Boland EM, Vittengl JR, Clark LA, Thase ME, Jarrett RB. Is Sleep Disturbance Linked to Short- and Long-Term Outcomes Following Treatments for Recurrent Depression? Journal of Affective Disorders. PMID: 31735410 [external]

Miller KE, Babler L, Maillart T, Faerman A, Woodward SH. Sleep/Wake Detection by Behavioral Response to Haptic Stimuli. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. PMID: 31739859 [external]

Strong JV, Allen RS, Tighe C, Jacobs ML, Dorman H, Mast B. What Geropsychology Trainees Think Geropsychologists Do and What We Actually Do: A Mixed-Methods Study. Gerontology and Geriatrics Education. PMID: 33939939 [external]

Thase ME et al. Impact of Pharmacogenomics on Clinical Outcomes for Patients Taking Medications with Gene-Drug Interactions in a Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. PMID: 31721487 [external]

Harris RA, Kranzler HR, Chang KM, Doubeni CA, Gross R. Long-term Use of Hydrocodone vs. Oxycodone in Primary Care. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. PMID: 31707268 [external] 

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David W. Oslin, M.D.
Director, VISN 4 MIRECC
Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center