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Assistant Psychiatrist in Division of Geriatric Psychiatry to Receive Prestigious AAGP Award

March 3, 2016 Print

Jennifer R. Gatchel, MD, PhD, assistant psychiatrist in the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry and instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has been selected as the recipient of the 2016 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) Member-in-Training Research Award. She joined the division in 2015 and focuses her work on cognitive changes in older adults with depression and anxiety.

The award recognizes one clinician-investigator each year in the national geriatric psychiatry community who is in training or has recently completed training for “participation in an ongoing research program under the guidance of a mentor, scholarly work in geriatric psychiatry through presentations or manuscript preparation, and/or involvement in research training or activities outside the scope of clinical training,” according to the AAGP.

Gatchel, along with Ipsit Vahia, MD, medical director of Geriatric Outpatient Services who was selected as the recipient of the AAGP’s Barry Lebowitz Early Career Scientist Award, will receive their awards at the opening ceremony of the AAGP Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on March 17. Two of the six recipients to be honored by the AAGP this year are from McLean.

Jennifer R. Gatchel, MD, PhD
Jennifer R. Gatchel, MD, PhD

Prior to joining McLean, Gatchel completed her psychiatry residency at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean and her geriatric psychiatry clinical fellowship at Harvard through the Partners HealthCare fellowship program. During her fellowship, she initiated several research projects and obtained independent funding to investigate late-life depression and preclinical Alzheimer’s disease at McLean and Massachusetts General Hospital.

One of those projects uses novel brain imaging technology to investigate neuropsychiatric symptoms in preclinical and early Alzheimer’s disease and their relationship to two of the main biomarkers of the illness.

“I’m deeply interested in characterizing the cognitive changes that occur in geriatric patients with late-life mood and anxiety disorders, as well as gaining a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying mood, anxiety, and cognitive symptoms in this population,” said Gatchel. “In particular, my interest is in the emergence of these symptoms in relation to Alzheimer’s disease biomarkers. I’m motivated by patients who I see clinically with mood and anxiety symptoms, who also have awareness of changes in their memory and thinking.”

“If we can identify those among this population who may be at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” she said, “we can ideally develop better prevention and treatment approaches. My major goal is to develop an integrated clinical and research program focused on geriatric patients with mood and anxiety disorders who may be at risk for progressive cognitive decline. I would also love to be involved in training the next generation of clinicians and scientists.”

Brent P. Forester MD, MSc, chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry, said, “Integrating our clinical care with ongoing research is what will ultimately help us discover the treatments we need for Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, and mood disorders in older adults. The translational research that Jennifer is leading is critically needed, and the McLean community is thrilled she is being recognized for her academic accomplishments, investigative studies, and devotion to her field.”

Gatchel added, “Together, Alzheimer’s disease and depression are major epidemics that are going to become increasingly difficult to manage as our population ages. With increased focus on clinical and research work supporting the geriatric population at McLean and on a national level, we have great hope of making strides in this area. I feel extremely fortunate to be doing this work.”