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October 18, 2020
McLean Hospital visiting scientist Suzanne Haber, PhD, is the recipient of the Gold Medal Award for 2020 from the Society of Biological Psychiatry (SOBP). The group recognized Haber for her many contributions to the study of neural networks that inform incentive learning and decision-making.
“It’s a big honor,” Haber said on winning the award. “I was surprised and humbled to learn that I’d been recognized.” Haber received her Gold Medal Award during a virtual ceremony held on August 5.
According to the SOBP, the Gold Medal Award was established “to honor pioneering contributions to the field and for significant and sustained work that advances and extends knowledge in biological psychiatry.” Haber was recognized for her long career studying the brain connections that drive decision-making. Studies have linked these connections to many mental illnesses, including OCD, PTSD, addiction, depression, and bipolar disorder.
“I’m interested in the circuitry that underlies incentive-based learning and how the brain makes decisions,” she said. Calling herself an “anatomist,” Haber said that her work focuses on the hardwired connections of systems that mediate value encoding and cognition. “We are particularly interested in how those connections, which can be identified in animals, can be demonstrated in humans using MRI imaging methods, thus allowing us to probe circuit abnormalities in mental health illnesses,” she explained.
At her labs at the University of Rochester and McLean, Haber specifically investigates the “circuits of emotion, motivation, cognition, all of which lead to decisions about what actions to take.” Recently, Haber said, her research has focused on “combining the precision of anatomy and new imaging technologies to develop connectivity profiles in the human brain to determine how circuit abnormalities are related to specific connections in OCD, addiction, and depression.” These profiles, she stated, “not only improve our understanding of circuit dysfunction various mental illnesses but also aid in developing new invasive and noninvasive therapeutic targets for disease.”
As a visiting scientist at McLean, Haber and her collaborators are working with McLean’s OCD Institute. To further their investigations, the team has applied to renew its center grant focused on obsessive compulsive disorder. “Working here opened a whole new avenue for my research,” Haber stated. “The atmosphere at McLean has been instrumental in my thinking about circuit abnormalities in psychiatric illnesses.”
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