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On the Shoulders of Giants Science Symposium

2020 Program

The 2020 On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium celebrated the work of Dr. Tom Boyce, the Lisa and John Pritzker Distinguished Professor of Developmental and Behavioral Health at the University of California, San Francisco and the recipient of the 2020 Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health.

The 2020 On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium was held virtually on October 6, 2020.

The 2020 symposium celebrated the work of Dr. Tom Boyce, the Lisa and John Pritzker Distinguished Professor of Developmental and Behavioral Health at the University of California, San Francisco, and the recipient of the 2020 Sarah Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health, which recognizes outstanding contributions to child and adolescent psychiatry, psychology or developmental neuroscience. Dr. Boyce’s work focuses on the impact of socioeconomic factors and early life experiences on child physical and mental health. He is a leading expert on the interplay between neurobiological and psychosocial processes — an interplay that leads to socially partitioned differences in childhood health, development and disease.

In his presentation, Dr. Boyce offered insights into some of the most compelling issues in child psychology: childhood trauma, compounding traumas and child development as it relates to resilience. Dr. Boyce has passed his commitment to these issues down to the investigators who stand on his shoulders. Joining him to present were two young researchers who have benefitted from the research base he has established, Drs. Nicole Bush and Danielle Roubinov. Their presentations explored how the current cultural and sociopolitical climate intersects with the study of trauma and resilience and they discussed the impact of trauma and resilience on the developing brain.

This year’s event also took a new format. Following the presentations by Dr. Boyce and his proteges, the event moved on to a roundtable discussion composed of distinguished scientists, who discussed issues of racism and inequality in children’s mental health — as well as the future of training in the field.

The roundtable discussion, moderated by Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), explored issues of race and discrimination in child and adolescent health and the country at large. Panelists were Drs. Tom Boyce, F. Xavier Castellanos, Kenneth A. Dodge, Felton “Tony” Earls, Yasmin Hurd, Jerome Kagan, Tom Insel and John Weisz. Highlights of the discussion included an incisive look at the changes scientists and researchers must make to combat classism and racism in the field of children’s mental health and a conversation about how a “national change of heart” can help create more inclusive, intersectional care.

About the Presenters

W. Tom Boyce, MD, is a leading expert on the interplay between neurobiological and psychosocial processes — an interplay that leads to socially partitioned differences in childhood health, development and disease.

Studying the interactive influences of socioeconomic adversities and neurobiological responses, Dr. Boyce has demonstrated how psychological stress and neurobiological reactivity to aversive social contexts operate conjointly to produce both physical and mental health disorders in childhood populations. A central goal of his work is to develop a new synthesis between biomedical and social epidemiologic accounts of human pathogenesis and to articulate the public health implications of that synthetic view.

Dr. Boyce is professor emeritus of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, where he formerly served as Lisa and John Pritzker Distinguished Professor of Developmental and Behavioral Health. He previously taught at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of the book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive, which was published in 2019. Nicki Bush, PhD, is an associate professor in the University of California, San Francisco Departments of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and the Director of Research for the Division of Developmental Medicine.

Dr. Bush’s research focuses on the manner in which early social contexts interface with individual differences to affect developmental trajectories across the life course. She examines how socioeconomic, parental and environmental risks for maladaptive behavior and developmental psychopathology are modulated by individual differences in children’s temperamental, neurobiological and genetic reactivity to stress. She also investigates the ways in which contextual experiences of adversity become biologically embedded by changing children’s developing physiologic systems and epigenetic processes, thereby shaping individual differences that mediate and moderate the effects of context on trajectories of development and mental health.

Her research has examined relations among biobehavioral predispositions (for example, temperament and physiology) and stressful life circumstances (for example, poverty, parenting and neighborhood) in the prediction of a broad range of children’s mental health outcomes. Her examinations of how social disadvantage interacts with and alters children’s biological stress response systems aim to clarify the etiology of children’s mental and physical health outcomes and subsequent adult health.

Danielle Roubinov, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the University of California, San Francisco Department of Psychiatry. She joined the UCSF faculty in 2017, following a two-year fellowship in developmental psychobiology in the UCSF Department of Pediatrics.

Dr. Roubinov’s research examines the pathways and mechanisms through which exposure to adversity early in life shapes children’s trajectories of physical and psychological health. A particular focus of her work is on children’s developing stress response systems, with the goal of understanding how environmental contexts become “biologically embedded” to influence health outcomes across the lifespan. By understanding the “how, when and for whom” of early trauma and its effects on children’s development, she aims to help develop a tailored prevention and intervention program for at-risk children and families.

She is currently the principal investigator of a five-year Career Development Award (K23) from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that focuses on understanding and treating symptoms of depression and anxiety during early childhood. As part of this grant, she directs the ABC Study.

Nora D. Volkow, MD, is Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug use and addiction. Dr. Volkow’s work has been instrumental in demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the human brain.

As a research psychiatrist and scientist, Dr. Volkow pioneered the use of brain imaging to investigate the toxic and addictive properties of abusable drugs. Her studies have documented changes in the dopamine system affecting, among others, the functions of frontal brain regions involved with motivation and self-regulation in addiction. She has also made important contributions to the neurobiology of obesity, ADHD, and aging and to the imaging field.

Xavier Castellanos, MD, is an endowed professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and professor of radiology and neuroscience at the NYU Langone Medical Center. He has been a research psychiatrist at the Nathan Kline Institute since 2006, with a focus on using intrinsic functional connectivity-based approaches in human and translational studies.

Leading up to his current work, Dr. Castellanos studied Chomskian linguistics at Vassar College, experimental psychology at the University of New Orleans, and medicine at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. He was in the first cohort of “triple board” residents (combined training in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child and adolescent psychiatry) at the University of Kentucky, after which he spent a decade conducting child psychiatry research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda. In 2001, he moved to his current position at New York University. He was an early advocate of examining low-frequency fluctuations in brain function and in behavior — both of which have become mainstream lines of investigation. He has been consistently identified as among the top 1% of cited scientists in psychiatric neuroscience. Dr. Castellanos has served on many national and international review committees and was vice chair of the American Psychiatric Association DSM-5 Workgroup on ADHD.

Kenneth A. Dodge, PhD, is the William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. He is also the founding and past director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, as well as the founder of Family Connects International. Dr. Dodge is a leading scholar in the development and prevention of aggressive and violent behaviors.

Dr. Dodge’s work provides a model for understanding how some young children grow up to engage in aggression and violence and provides a framework for intervening early to prevent the costly consequences of violence for children and their communities.

Dr. Dodge’s research has resulted in the Family Connects Program, an evidence-based, population health approach to supporting families of newborn infants. Piloted in Durham, North Carolina and formerly known as Durham Connects, the program attempts to reach all families giving birth in a community to assess family needs, intervene where needed, and connect families to tailored community resources. Randomized trials indicate the program’s success in improving family connections to the community, reducing maternal depression and anxiety, and preventing child abuse. The model is currently expanding to many communities across the United States.

Dr. Dodge has published more than 500 scientific articles, which have been cited more than 120,000 times.

Felton James “Tony” Earls, MD, is a child psychiatrist and epidemiologist. He is currently Professor of Social Medicine, Emeritus at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Human Behavior and Development, Emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He is known for directing the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, exploring the causes of antisocial behavior.

Prior to his current positions, he was the Blanche F. Ittleson Professor of Child Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Political and Social Science, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Earls is best known for directing the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Supported by unprecedented funding (over $52 million) through a public/private partnership of the federal National Institute of Justice, the MacArthur Foundation and others, the project explored the roles of neighborhood environments, family influences and individual differences in explaining the causes of antisocial behavior. The project’s major finding was the power of neighborhoods with high “collective efficacy” to ameliorate antisocial behavior. In such neighborhoods, the residents — regardless of race, income or the percentage of single-parent households — trust each other, share common values, and are willing to intervene on behalf of the common good; for example, in supervising children and protecting public order.

Yasmin Hurd, PhD, is the Ward-Coleman Chair of Translational Neuroscience and the Director of the Addiction Institute at Mount Sinai. Dr. Hurd’s multidisciplinary research investigates the neurobiology underlying addiction disorders and related psychiatric illnesses. A major focus of her research is directed to risk factors of addiction disorders including genetics as well as developmental exposure to drugs of abuse.

Dr. Hurd uses a translational approach to examine molecular and neurochemical events in the human brain and comparable animal models in order to ascertain neurobiological correlates of behavior. Dr. Hurd is also the former director of Mount Sinai’s combined MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program. Additionally, Dr. Hurd sits on the Clinical Neuroendocrinology Branch, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). She is also a member of the National Academy of Medicine, American Society for Neuroscience, New York Academy of Sciences, and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. Dr. Hurd’s work has been cited more than 13,000 times. Her work on the neurobiology of addiction, especially with regard to the effects of heroin and the developmental changes caused by cannabis, has been profiled in a variety of popular news sources.

Jerome Kagan, PhD, is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, co-faculty at the New England Complex Systems Institute and one of the key pioneers of developmental psychology. He has studied cognitive and emotional development for over 50 years. He and colleagues have concentrated on the role of temperament in development.

Dr. Kagan is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been awarded the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Psychological Association and the Society for Research in Child Development as well as the Child Mind Institute. He has authored or co-authored more than 300 papers and more than 15 books. His major books include: Birth to Maturity (with Howard Moss), Galen’s Prophecy, The Nature of the Child, Infancy (with Richard Kearsley and Philip Zelazo), Three Seductive Ideas, A Young Mind in a Growing Brain (with Norbert Herschkowitz), The Long Shadow of Temperament (with Nancy Snidman), What Is Emotion? An Argument for Mind, The Three Cultures, and in 2012, Recalcitrant Ghosts.

Thomas R. Insel, MD, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist, is a co-founder and president of Mindstrong Health. From 2002–15, Dr. Insel served as Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed to research on mental disorders.

Prior to serving as NIMH director, Dr. Insel was a professor of psychiatry at Emory University where he was founding director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience in Atlanta. Most recently (2015–17), he led the Mental Health Team at Verily (formerly Google Life Sciences) in South San Francisco, California. Dr. Insel is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and has received numerous national and international awards including honorary degrees in the U.S. and Europe.

John Weisz, PhD, is a professor at Harvard University in the Department of Psychology, expanding his body of research on strategies for improving youth mental health care. Dr. Weisz’s most recent work involves development and testing of trans-diagnostic approaches to youth psychotherapy, including treatment that uses modular design and treatment guided by a small number of broad principles of psychological change.

He was born and raised in Mississippi and received a BA from Mississippi College. Along with his wife, Jenny, he served as a teacher in the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya. Dr. Weisz later studied at Yale, where he received a PhD in clinical and developmental psychology. He held faculty positions at Cornell, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of California, Los Angeles, where in partnership with several local mental health clinics, he focused on studying youth mental health care in community settings. Those partnerships produced 14 years of research on psychotherapy process and outcome in everyday clinical practice, and multiple randomized trials of cognitive behavioral therapy for youth depression and anxiety. In 2004, Dr. Weisz expanded his partnerships to the state of Massachusetts, where he served for eight years as president and CEO of the Judge Baker Children’s Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. While at Judge Baker, Dr. Weisz accepted numerous academic appointments, and now works full time as a professor in the Harvard Psychology Department.

Dr. Weisz is especially interested in integrating evidence-based practices with strategies for personalizing treatment to fit individual youth and family characteristics. Dr. Weisz’s meta-analyses provide a broad picture of the state of youth psychotherapy research and address specific questions about moderators of psychotherapy benefit. His books include Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Evidence-based treatments and case examples (Cambridge University Press) and Evidence-based Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents (Co-edited with Alan Kazdin; Guilford Press).