AUGUSTA, Ga. - Dr. Peter F. Buckley, a psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia and Dean of the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, is the 2014 winner of the Kempf Fund Award for Research Development in Psychobiological Psychiatry from the American Psychiatric Association.
The award, recognizing a senior researcher and mentor who has made significant contributions to defining causes and better treatments for schizophrenia, was presented during the APA's Annual Meeting in New York.
Buckley's research focuses on the neurobiology and treatment of schizophrenia, including studies on the genetics of schizophrenia, the psychopharmacology of relapse, and cognitive retraining to improve patients' focus and function. His primary mentorship role is with Dr. Brian J. Miller, a faculty member in the MCG Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior who came to Augusta in 2005 as a psychiatry resident to work with him. Miller studies the impact of the immune system function in schizophrenia, including its contribution to relapse and potential for predicting relapse and/or monitoring treatment results.
Buckley will receive $1,500 and Miller $20,000 to support the younger psychiatrist's research career development.
The two physician-scientists were drawn to schizophrenia work because of the complexity of the illness and the reality that many patients died 30 years prematurely, primarily from cardiovascular disease, which may be accelerated by schizophrenia treatment.
"I was very moved by their stories and by the complexity of their illness and comorbidities and saw just a real need for physicians who have a genuine interest in this patient population, so it was just kind of a natural calling," Miller said.
As a medical student at University College Dublin, Buckley first thought he would be a family physician like his father. A psychiatry rotation peaked his interest in schizophrenia and a psychiatry residency strengthened it. A faculty appointment at Case Western Reserve University and a stint as Medical Director of Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital enabled Buckley to work alongside pioneers in the field. These included Dr. S. Charles Schulz, Case Western Department Chairman; Dr. Herbert Y. Meltzer, who co-led the benchmark study identifying the antipsychotic clozapine as the most potent schizophrenia treatment; and Dr. Dale P. Svendsen, then Medical Director of the Ohio Department of Public Health.
Miller would cross many of the same esteemed paths while in medical school and earning a master of public health at The Ohio State University. When it was time for Miller to start a residency, Svendsen suggested Miller meet Buckley.
"A good amount of what I do for him at this stage is try to connect him with other leaders in the field that he may not have a connection with and try to make sure opportunities are available to him," Buckley said. A key benchmark was securing a mentored research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health so Miller could pursue his interest in finding a safe marker for schizophrenia relapse. Next steps including securing an independent federal grant.
It's a relationship that has worked well for two very different individuals studying differing aspects of a complex disease. "A good mentor recognizes not only what your strengths and skill sets are but also your limitations and they inspire you and drive you and push you to build new skills, to take on new experiences and opportunities," Miller said. "It's kind of a bicycle built for two and they are steering you in the right direction."
Having more than one mentor helps and knowing when to get out of the way is essential as well, Buckley said. "Control is a deadly dynamic. They can't grow under the shadow of their mentor," said Buckley, who is proud of the distinct path Miller is taking. "He is carving out and has always carved out his own area and his focus is not my area. In fact, I am learning from him," Buckley said.
Buckley was named a member of the Executive Committee of the International Congress of Schizophrenia Research in 2013 and has served on its Advisory Board for nearly a decade. He is also a member of the Election Committee of the Schizophrenia International Research Society and the Scientific Council of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. He has served on a NIMH Special Emphasis Panel on Schizophrenia and Aging, and chaired the institute's Interventions Committee for Disorders Related to Schizophrenia, Late Life or Personality. He also serves on a NIMH Data and Safety Monitoring Board and, last year, co-chaired the federal review panel for Clinical and Translational Research Award applications.
In addition to an MD and MPH from The Ohio State University, Miller earned a PhD from Finland's University of Oulu. He completed a psychiatric residency, psychotic disorders fellowship and a year as Chief Resident at MCG and the Georgia Regents Health System before joining the faculty in 2010. He is an editorial board member of Schizophrenia Bulletin, a member of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association Board of Trustees, and recipient of the 2011 Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the 2013 GRU Research Institute Emerging Scientist Award, and the 2014 MCG Exemplary Teaching Award.
Medical College of Georgia
Georgia Regents University
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