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Duke Psychiatrist Named Chair of Department

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -– Dr. K. Ranga Krishnan, professor of psychiatry and chief of the division of biological psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center, has been named the next chairman of Duke's department of psychiatry.

The appointment was announced Tuesday by Dr. Ralph Snyderman, chancellor for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine, and Duke Provost John Strohbehn. Krishnan will officially assume leadership of the department on or before July 1, pending approval by the university's board of trustees.

A Duke faculty member since 1981, Krishnan was selected to lead the department of psychiatry -- one of the largest in the country with nearly $20 million in annual federal research funding -- following a national search. Snyderman said Krishnan is an international expert in treating depression and other brain disorders of the elderly and his research "has contributed immeasurably to the understanding of brain changes that underlie geriatric conditions."

In addition to three books, Krishnan has written more than 200 journal articles and 50 book chapters on the subjects of elderly depression, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, panic disorder, manic-depressive illness and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others.

Most recently, he identified and described the pathology of a little known condition called vascular depression, in which small strokes in the mood centers of the brain give rise to a unique type of depression that previously had no identifiable origin. Colleagues said his thirst for knowledge is driven by his commitment to finding newer and better treatments for his patients.

"Dr. Krishnan possesses a unique combination of qualities that have earned him widespread respect as an outstanding scientist, a compassionate clinician, a committed mentor and teacher and a highly effective administrator," Snyderman said. "His proven creativity, effectiveness and ability to work collaboratively with faculty both within and outside of his department will be vital to the future growth and expansion of a department that has a number of outstanding components."

Krishnan said the department is known for its clinical strengths in behavioral medicine, depression, attention deficit disorder and anxiety disorders, and will move toward strengthening its research into the genetic causes of psychiatric conditions such as depression, manic-depressive illness and late-life psychiatric disorders. At the same time, he said, the department will continue to build its clinical programs in a wide range of psychiatric diseases.

"Given that neuroscience is a prominent area of growth in the coming decade, my hope is that Duke will play a key role in discovering the genetic basis for a range of psychiatric disorders," Krishnan said. "The ultimate goal will be to develop clinical programs to treat large numbers of people."

Krishnan and his colleagues already have engaged in scores of brain imaging studies using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to study the changes that underlie brain conditions like vascular depression and manic-depressive illness. Krishnan said he hopes to expand those studies by establishing links with other Duke departments whose programs are already strong.

"By integrating with other programs like neurology, cell biology, genetics and the Duke Clinical Research Institute, we hope to pool our collective expertise for the purpose of finding the causes of disease and thereby developing new treatments," Krishnan said.

Within the community at large, such collaborations have been ongoing for several years, Krishnan said. Duke and the University of North Carolina (UNC) jointly operate a center for mental health that encompasses a broad range of psychiatric illnesses, and future collaborations with UNC call for the study of HIV dementia and neurofibromatosis, also known as "elephant man" syndrome. Duke faculty members and residents serve on rotations at John Umstead Hospital in Butner as well as at county mental health clinics in Roxboro and South Hill.

Krishnan said he plans to continue the department's community involvement as well as to expand the department's role in collaborating with other institutions throughout the country. Recent initiatives include a $4.3 million NIH grant to study St. John's Wort. That study will be carried out at 12 academic medical centers nationwide with Duke as the coordinating center. And a grant proposal currently being submitted calls for up to 20 different medical centers to participate in the largest clinical trial ever to study manic-depressive illness.

Krishnan, a native of Madras, India, came to Duke in 1981 as a psychiatry resident after completing internships in India and the West Indies. He was chief resident in psychiatry from 1982-1983 and a fellow in neurobiology at Duke until 1984. He was appointed as a faculty member in 1985 and ascended to medical director of the affective disorders unit in 1989.

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