Lynn DeLisi, Cambridge Health Alliance

Lynn DeLisi, Cambridge Health Alliance

Psychiatry was the field of Medicine I chose after graduating medical school and performing field work in rural Northern New Mexico as a general practitioner for 3 years. Most of my patients would come into the clinic because of anxiety or depression and various kinds of emotional distress. So I chose to go back into training to be a psychiatrist. My interest in schizophrenia specifically goes back to the days of two movies —One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and I Never Promised you a Rose Garden (1977). The latter initiated my curiosity about the experiences people with schizophrenia have and their underlying basis. I then proceeded to read every book ever written by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (the psychiatrist in the 1977 film) about the psychoanalysis of her patients. The former movie initiated my innate desire to change society for the better and certainly improve the quality of care in psychiatric inpatient units.  I chose a career in research, because it was clear to me that psychiatrists had no evidence-based knowledge for effectively, objectively and consistently treating their patients. The field seemed so primitive to me in the 1970’s that it was a welcomed challenge to think of being able to make some important contributions to our understanding of psychotic symptoms. There was so much yet to be done. When as a resident, I attended a lecture by Seymour Kety explaining how his adoption studies in Denmark had shown that biology and likely inheritance had far more influence on the development of schizophrenia than the environment, it was then that I decided to focus on biologic mechanisms for schizophrenia, and particularly genetic ones.

As I look back on these past 40+ years, I see that many biological findings came and then disappeared over and over again. Most depended heavily on the availability of (or lack of) advanced technology that allowed us to view them in debth. I followed many patients over the years by brain imaging to understand the progression of the schizophrenia process over time and I spent many years gathering data from large families with several members afflicted with the disorder. I hope that my research has contributed substantially to understanding the underlying progressive brain changes in schizophrenia and the heterogeneity of the possible genetic causes. Today I see those so called “multiplex families” I meticulously evaluated from all over the USA and other countries as a gold mine for further understanding of the disorder. I hope others will take off from where I left off in the quest for knowledge about schizophrenia. Currently I focus most of my time developing and expanding treatment programs for new onset cases of schizophrenia and their families. Each individual who comes to me for treatment is unique and gives me further insight into how we may improve the quality of all of their lives. I am now approaching an understanding of schizophrenia through them.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is SIRS most prestigious award, given to a scientist who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of the field of schizophrenia research. You can find out more by clicking here.

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