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Pathfinder - Dr. Lisa Monteggia

RFU Alumna Lisa Monteggia, PhD '99, is the new director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Dr. Lisa Monteggia is at the forefront of NIH-funded research aimed at discovering more effective therapeutics to help the 350 million people worldwide who suffer from depression. Her work to identify the molecular mechanism in the brain targeted by the highly touted drug ketamine, prescribed off-label for the rapid alleviation of symptoms of severe depression in treatment-resistant patients, generated tremendous excitement in the field. Published in the journal Nature and discussed in the journal Science, it has opened a new molecular pathway for study and for the development of safer, fast-acting antidepressants.

"The clinical work showing that an acute low dose of ketamine can produce rapid antidepressant effects was very surprising," Dr. Monteggia said. "We've shown potential in working backward to understand the mechanism that produces the fast-action response and that we might be able to trigger that without the side effects associated with ketamine."

Dr. Monteggia's work to understand the neural mechanisms underlying the efficacy of antidepressants began as a doctoral candidate in RFU's Department of Neuroscience, where she was inspired to search for underlying causes or contributions to a disease state or treatment advance while thinking about implications for patients. Her formation as a scientist took place at the intersection of academic medical research and for-profit pharmaceutical research. She worked for seven years in a drug discovery unit at Abbott Laboratories, the last four while earning her PhD under the mentorship of Marina Wolf, PhD, former chair.

I’m hoping to recruit dynamic neuroscientists and bridge across different disciplines and departments to synergize and create a dynamic neuroscience environment on campus.
Lisa Monteggia, PhD '99

"Seeing how people from different disciplines came together to ask questions, how one person's approach could be so incredibly different from, but just as valid as someone else's — seeing that in action taught me the importance of listening," Dr. Monteggia said. "I was shaped by the diversity of people with whom I interacted on a daily basis."

In announcing Dr. Monteggia's appointment as director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, TN, said it had identified the ideal leader, one with the "proven ability to reach across discipline lines to advance research on some of the most challenging questions and issues in neuroscience." Dr. Monteggia's research, the university also noted, "complements and extends" key areas of investigation at Vanderbilt.

"I'm eager to expand on the groundwork that's been laid by the institute, which has excellent graduate training and community outreach," Dr. Monteggia said. "I'm hoping to recruit dynamic neuroscientists and bridge across different disciplines and departments to synergize and create a dynamic neuroscience environment on campus."

Dr. Monteggia's career trajectory has been swift. After two years of postdoctoral training in molecular psychiatry at Yale University's Department of Psychiatry, in 2002 she joined UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She was awarded tenure in 2009 and appointed full professor in 2013.

A proponent for the recruitment, promotion and mentorship of women, Dr. Monteggia's directorship of a nationally recognized brain institute bodes well for gender equality in academic medicine and in the field of neuroscience, where women outnumber men in earning PhDs. Carnegie Mellon University has also appointed a woman to lead its neuroscience institute.

"It's a wonderful opportunity and I am honored to serve as director," Dr. Monteggia said. "I look forward to continuing our research focus as well as uniting and expanding the neuroscience community across the Vanderbilt community."

Posted August 21
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