WEBCAST UNDER WAY: Harvard leader, former NIMH director to discuss ‘genetics of mind’ at public lecture in Roanoke

ric_adminFralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC

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What makes you, you?

Eye color, sense of humor, athletic ability, cancer risk – science has shown that the traits that make us unique arise from a blend of genetic makeup and environmental factors.

Researchers are getting better at tracing human traits including behavior back to biology. These discoveries help researchers develop a deeper understanding of individual differences in cognition and decision-making as well as improved approaches for designing strategies to diagnose and treat devastating conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

But some researchers caution that these advances could lead society down the wrong path.

“Predictions about a person’s abilities and traits of mind, even if partial and probabilistic, can work insidious harms in society if thoughtlessly applied,” said Steven Hyman, a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine, where he serves on the governing council.

Hyman, who is also the director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatry Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, will discuss the benefits and potential risks of combining genetics and neuroscience on Thursday, May 23 at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

Starting at 5:30 p.m., his free public presentation, “The new genetics of mind: Navigating a brave new world,” is this month’s featured Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture at the research institute in Roanoke.

“Dr. Hyman continues to be an innovator, working at the boundaries of psychiatry, computation and genetics,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “He is a leading light in advancing a field of medicine that impacts the lives of vast numbers of the people in the world that currently has little rigorous scientific solutions available. His work and leadership are changing that.”

During Hyman’s tenure as Harvard University’s provost between 2001 and 2011, he oversaw the design of collaborative scholastic programs that spanned multiple disciplines and institutions in science and engineering.

Prior to joining Harvard University, he served as the National Institute of Mental Health’s director for five years. In this capacity, he emphasized investments in neuroscience and emerging genetic technologies, and also initiated a series of large clinical trials that led to comparative efficacy studies.

A native of New Jersey, Hyman is a graduate of Yale University; the University of Cambridge, where he earned a Masters of Arts in history and science philosophy as a Mellon fellow; and Harvard Medical School. After medical school, Hyman completed a psychiatry residency, a neurology and medicine fellowship, and a Harvard Medical School postdoctoral research fellowship in molecular biology.

Hyman is president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and has played an important role in guiding policy decisions, both federally and internationally.

Since 2006, Hyman has chaired the World Health Organization’s International Advisory Group for the Revision of International Classification of Diseases: Mental and Behavioral Disorders. He also serves on the Bioethics Advisory Committee of Singapore’s International Panel of Experts. In 2011, he chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Among his numerous awards recognizing his contributions to the scientific community are the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award, the National Academy of Medicine Rhoda and Bernard Sarnat Prize in Mental Health, the American Psychiatric Association Distinguished Service Award, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Distinguished Service Award and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Distinguished Service Award.

He also serves in an advisory or leadership role for major mental health organizations including the National Research Council, the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, the Charles H. Revson Foundation, the One Mind Institute and the Brain and Behavioral Research Foundation.

An elected distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatry Association, Hyman is also an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American College of Psychiatrists.

He is a former president of the Society for Neuroscience and has served as the editor of the Annual Review of Neuroscience for 14 years.

A welcoming reception will begin at 5 p.m. in the VTC Café. Hyman’s presentation will also be webcast on the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute website.