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On the Shoulders of Giants Science Symposium

2021 Program

On October 5th, the Child Mind Institute hosted the 11th annual On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium. The event was held virtually and with 1,900 attendees.

The symposium celebrated the work of Dr. Yasmin Hurd, the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and the Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai and the winner of the Child Mind Institute’s Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health. The event began with presentations from Dr. Hurd and her two protegees, Dr. Yoko Nomura, a tenured Professor in the Department of Psychology at Queens College, CUNY, and Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Dr. Jacqueline-Marie Ferland, a postdoctoral researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

Dr. Hurd’s presentation began with an overview of cannabis and how it works in the brain and went on to explain the impact of developmental exposure to cannabis on adulthood and growth, neurobiological changes related to cannabis exposure in development, and the research on genetic risk of cannabis use disorder. Dr. Nomura’s presentation focused in more depth on the developmental consequences of the joint exposure to stress and cannabis in utero. She gave an overview of her research showing the impact of multiple adverse events, like stress and cannabis use, during critical developmental periods can alter the trajectory of optimal brain development. Dr. Ferland’s presentation centered on the effects of cannabis use and THC exposure in adolescence and its long-term impacts. She spoke in depth about the increasing potency of THC in cannabis and how these increased doses of THC, when used in adolescence, can lead to increased risk for developing stress, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders and even psychosis. 

The second half of the symposium consisted of a powerful roundtable discussion led by Dr. Wilson Compton, Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. On the panel were the symposium presenters Dr. Yasmin Hurd, Dr. Yoko Nomura, and Dr. Jacqueline-Marie Ferland. Additionally, the panel included Dr. Kevin M. Gray, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina; Dr. Leslie A. Hulvershorn, Interim Co-Chair, and Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Indiana University School of Medicine; and Dr. Christian Thurstone, Director of Service of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health, Professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver. 

The engaging roundtable discussion focused on the impact of marijuana use on brain function and development in children and adolescents, implications for mental health outcomes, and practical advice for parents. The discussion emphasized that while cannabis is a natural substance, it can pose long-term risks for development and mental health that can start as early as fetal development in the womb and can extend into adulthood. The panelists stressed that this is especially true given the extremely high doses of THC being consumed via commercial products like vapes and that these higher doses of THC are correlated with increased risk of dependency and greater risk of cannabis use disorder. For parents and care providers, the panelists shared some advice and guidance. They stressed the importance of open communication and accessible language around cannabis use to help reduce and delay exposure as long as possible.

About the Presenters

Dr. Yasmin Hurd is the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and the Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai and the winner of our Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health. Dr. Hurd’s multidisciplinary research investigates the neurobiology underlying addiction disorders and related psychiatric illnesses.  A translational approach is used to examine molecular and neurochemical events in the human brain and comparable animal models in order to ascertain neurobiological correlates of behavior.  A major focus of the research is directed to risk factors of addiction disorders including genetics as well as developmental exposure to drugs of abuse such as cannabis. Her lab also conducts human clinical trials in developing novel therapies for opioid use disorder.

Dr. Wilson M. Compton serves as the Deputy Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health, working to provide scientific leadership in the development, implementation, and management of NIDA’s research portfolio in order to improve the prevention and treatment of drug abuse and addiction.

Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Compton served as the Director of NIDA’s Division of Epidemiology, Services and Prevention Research. Before joining NIDA, Dr. Compton was a tenured faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Master in Psychiatric Epidemiology Program at Washington University in Saint Louis, as well as Medical Director of Addiction Services at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis.

Dr. Yoko Nomura is a newly tenured Professor in the Department of Psychology (in behavioral neurosciences) Queens College, CUNY, and Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She is the Principal Investigator of an NIH-funded, population based, longitudinal research study in developmental psychopathology, known as the Stress in Pregnancy (SIP) Study. The study focuses on the gestational period (during pregnancy), which is a critical, but often overlooked, stage for optimal child development. The study has recruited over 600 pregnant women and has been able to uncover the interplay between child genetic susceptibility and psychosocial stress that mothers experience during pregnancy.

Dr. Jacqueline-Marie Ferland is a postdoctoral researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she studies the effects of THC exposure on psychiatric vulnerability. She holds a PhD in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia where her research investigated the involvement of risky decision making on addiction susceptibility, using techniques such as locomotor sensitization, microdialysis, and DREADDs to explore dopamine’s role in the expression of disadvantageous choice.. In addition to being an academic, she loves communicating science to a broader audience, where the facts can have an impact, and science can be part of the dialogue.

Dr. Kevin M. Gray is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). He received his B.S. from Clemson University and his M.D. from MUSC, where he went on to complete his residency in General Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

As the Director of Child and Adolescent Behavioral Neurosciences Research at MUSC, Dr. Gray conducts National Institutes of Health supported research involving substance use disorders in adolescents and adults. He has authored or co-authored over 50 publications, and has given over 100 presentations at national and international conferences.

Dr. Leslie A. Hulvershorn completed her MD at the Indiana University School of Medicine. She then completed an academic track residency in General Psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and a two-year research track Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at New York University. Dr. Hulvershorn is an active researcher and clinician and has authored numerous publications in child psychiatry. She has received multiple grants to study the neurobiological basis of emotion regulation and addiction risk in children with externalizing disorders. In addition to being a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist, she has also been boarded in Addiction Medicine, since 2012.

Dr. Christian Thurstone is Director of Service of Behavioral Health Services at Denver Health and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Denver, where he conducts research on youth substance use and addiction and has served as director of medical training for the university’s addiction psychiatry fellowship program.

Teens and young adults in Colorado and throughout metro Chicago call him “Dr. T,” the name under which he wrote a weekly advice column for nearly a decade for The Tribune Co.-owned student newspaper, The Mash. Dr. Thurstone has served as medical director of one of Colorado’s largest youth substance-treatment programs and as a past president of the Colorado Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Society. He completed medical training at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and UCD.