Anissa Abi-Dargham

Sparking Scientific Excellence

Anissa Abi-Dargham: Psychiatry

Anissa Abi DarghamAnissa Abi-Dargham, an internationally recognized leader in molecular imaging of the brain functioning related to schizophrenia and concurrent addiction, knew from an early age what she wanted to do. “I’ve always been fascinated in finding out how the brain works and what causes psychosis,” she said. “Hearing people’s stories, and searching for solutions, is the most interesting thing I can engage in.”

Most of her distinguished career, which includes more than 20 years at Columbia University in New York, has focused on developing tools to image the neurochemical alterations in the brains of patients with schizophrenia and addictions. As vice chair for research in the Department of Psychiatry and associate dean for Clinical Translational Science, Abi-Dargham and team are on the verge of uncovering some of the biological triggers for schizophrenia, which she considers the most debilitating mental illness.

“The beauty of psychiatry is it has so many interconnections to other fields of study — for example, how brain function affects behavior and how behavior can then affect society,” said Abu-Dargham. “And the environment here is such that I can both fulfill my scientific interests and pursue my passion of mentoring today’s students to help solve tomorrow’s societal issues.” She’s excited, too, about leading larger-scale efforts that are helping further the advancement of science.

Abi-Dargham, for example, is co-lead for the campuswide Strategic Budget Initiative’s (SBI) Enhance Research task, where she plays a key part in accelerating research and innovation, and identifying solutions to expand SBU’s clinical research portfolio. These include providing institutional support for grant submissions, creating a research council to develop strategies for hiring and funding searches, and embracing a campuswide culture of inclusiveness for research opportunities.

She also heads SBU’s involvement in the Clinical and Translational Science Award, which aims to translate basic discoveries in the lab to healthcare programs and treatment in public communities around the country. Her work centers on expanding the size and scope of the Long Island Network for Clinical and Translational Science (LINCATS) to function as a “major and mature” CTSA hub. 

“LINCATS’ mission is to promote greater health equity; respond to healthcare risks more effectively; and provide outreach, education and training — all with a special focus on underrepresented minorities and health disparities,” explained Abi-Dargham.While the objective is to serve the most pressing needs of this population of Long Island, “we’re also developing programs that act as models for other areas of the nation and integrating our efforts within the existing national network.” 

With many other programs in the works, one that’s already implemented provides financial support for mentorship, as well as dedicated research time to help high schoolers apply for federal grants and establish independent research careers.

Looking to the future, Abi-Dargham also places significant emphasis on serving as a role model for young women in her field, right here at SBU. 

“Anissa’s mentorship has allowed an entire team of scientists to work to their highest potential. Her sharp, strategic focus allows us to identify important research questions we can answer at Stony Brook,” said Katherine Jonas, postdoctoral fellow in the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. 

Ellen Cooke is the associate director of internal communications, Office of Marketing and Communications.