Blending Academics and Business as the New Program Director of McLean’s Institute for Technology in Psychiatry

November 8, 2019

Since Rachel Sava, PhD, joined McLean Hospital as the new program director of the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry (ITP) in August, she has been busy planning the recent Technology in Psychiatry Summit and meeting with clinicians and researchers throughout the organization. She plans to spend the next year “focusing on strategy, finding ways to further the mission of the ITP, and continuing to develop the ITP as a resource for everyone on campus.”

The North Reading, Massachusetts, native was drawn to her new role because it combines her interest in academic research with her strong business background. Sava has a BA in neurobiology from Harvard University and a PhD in neuroscience from Weill Cornell Medical College. While working toward her doctorate, she researched the underlying neural mechanisms of ketamine’s antidepressant effects.

After receiving her PhD, she worked as a life sciences consultant in the Greater Boston area. In this role, she assisted pharmaceutical companies with market strategy, due diligence, competitive analysis, and portfolio assessments, both in the U.S. and internationally. Ultimately, she explained, “I helped companies strategize where they should focus their resources and think about the best path forward for products they had developed.”

Hands hold a smartphone
As program director, Sava furthers the ITP’s mission to use digital health technology and informatics to advance psychiatric research and practice

Although Sava enjoyed her time as a business consultant, she missed being immersed in research and academia. Fortunately, her new role as program director of the ITP, Sava said, lets her “blend the two backgrounds I had developed as well as re-enter the psychiatric field. It’s the most perfect role that I could imagine for myself.”

“Every day, I get to talk to clinicians, researchers, and scientists on campus and utilize my academic background to ultimately impact people’s lives,” she stated. “Also, my role lets me help foster innovation and work toward using technologies to better serve our patients. I am constantly inspired here on campus knowing that my work will directly help those who trust McLean to receive the best care possible.”

As program director, Sava furthers the institute’s mission to use digital health technology and informatics to advance psychiatric research and practice. She works with McLean researchers to implement technologies, and she helps identify technologies from outside companies—often start-ups—that can aid in treatment.

“If researchers on campus are trying to integrate a new technology, we can assist in navigating the approval process with Partners to ultimately ensure we protect our patients,” Sava explained. “The ITP also acts as a scientific advisory community that assesses new technologies and engages companies looking to collaborate with researchers and clinicians at McLean.

Right now, she said, “We are working with several start-ups, including virtual reality systems and phone apps.” As the ITP continues to grow, she said, “We may also be able to help McLean researchers develop and commercialize technologies developed through their work on campus.”

In the upcoming year, Sava plans to “continue to lay the foundation” for the ITP’s future. “We need to constantly reexamine the community’s needs and understand what technologies people want to use,” she stated. “We have the potential to fill many roles for McLean, but ultimately our trajectory will depend on what we identify are the biggest goals and barriers for McLean researchers and clinicians and what exciting opportunities evolve from those conversations.”

Sava is excited about the future of the ITP and committed to finding better uses for technology to improve psychiatric care. “This role is incredibly invigorating because there are so many ways that we can use technology to improve people’s mental health—whether it’s finding people who need psychiatric care sooner, developing more efficient and effective treatment sessions, or improving patient follow-up after they leave McLean’s care. These technologies could make all the difference.”

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