In Memoriam: Elena H. Chartoff, PhD

May 29, 2024

It is with great sadness that we share with you the unexpected death of longtime colleague Elena H. Chartoff, PhD, director, Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior Laboratory, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Chartoff was well-known throughout the McLean community and beyond for her unwavering commitment to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental health and substance use disorders through innovative research and education.

Joining the McLean community in 2001 as a post-doctoral fellow in the Behavioral Genetics Laboratory and then founding the Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior Laboratory in 2009, Chartoff’s research focused on how chronic exposure to drugs of abuse changes the brain at molecular and cellular levels.

Watch one of Chartoff’s lectures here

“Elena was a gifted researcher, educator, and mentor, whose focus on understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of reward function and motivated behavior in the context of psychiatric disorders such as bipolar disorder, depression, and addiction, has had a great impact on the field,” said Bill Carlezon, PhD, chief of McLean’s Jerry and Phyllis Rappaport Center of Excellence in Basic Neuroscience Research and close collaborator of Chartoff.

Dr. Elena Chartoff

Dr. Elena H. Chartoff in her lab

Beyond her laboratory work, Chartoff was a strong believer in increasing public education about mental illness, substance misuse, and neuroscience. To that end, she actively sought collaborations with local and national organizations to develop curriculum that resonated with young people, while also encouraging them to consider careers in psychiatry and neuroscience.

Among her recent accomplishments was her role in the development of McLean’s Mental Health Research Summer Program. This paid summer research program engages scientific curiosity, creates research opportunities, and promotes academic success in the science of mental health for promising young Black, Indigenous, and underrepresented people of color (BIPOC) who are considering a career in research.

“Elena was a valued member of our community, and her loss will be deeply felt by all who knew her,” said Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, chief scientific officer.

“She encouraged all of us to be ambassadors for neuroscience beyond our research communities and advocates for those whose lives are directly affected by addiction and other mental illnesses.”

A memorial service is being planned by her family. We will provide additional information as it becomes available.

In the meantime, we recognize that Dr. Chartoff’s death will undoubtedly affect many throughout the McLean community and beyond. We encourage you to access the following resources:

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