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On the Shoulders of Giants Science Symposium

2022 Program

This event honored the work of Dr. Margaret McCarthy, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and director for the Program in Neuroscience (PIN) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The Child Mind Institute hosted the 12th Annual On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium on October 20, 2022. The virtual event was a huge success – 2,400 people attended the symposium and thousands more have signed up to receive the recording!

This year’s symposium honored Dr. Margaret McCarthy, the winner of the 2022 Child Mind Institute Sara Gund Prize for Research and Mentorship in Child Mental Health. Dr. McCarthy is the James and Carolyn Frenkil Dean’s Professor, Chair for the Department of Pharmacology, and Director for the Program in Neuroscience (PIN) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She led off the first part of the symposium with a presentation of her seminal work on the developmental origins of sex differences in the brain, and was followed by presentations from her two proteges, Dr. Jaclyn Schwarz, Associate Professor at the University of Delaware, and Dr. Brittany Osborne, Senior Research Associate at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Watch the Event Recording

Dr. McCarthy’s began her talk by reflecting on prior work in animal models. After making the shocking revelation that most research up until the late 20th century had been conducted only in male animals, Dr. McCarthy highlighted the extraordinary findings of her work with both male and female rats. This research demonstrated that some key cellular underpinnings of the brain, specifically in microglia cells, differ by sex. She then moved on to how these phenomena differentially impact behavior and mental health outcomes between boys and girls. Next, Dr. Schwarz spoke about her studies of how immune activation during early life disrupts learning. She pointed out that variations in the timing and duration of the immune response can lead to vastly difference outcomes. Finally, Dr. Osborne took the stage and talked about a key period of development: adolescence. Her presentation focused on differences in the stress response among adolescent boys and girls, and how those differences lead to different mental health outcomes as adults. Throughout, the speakers stressed that steroid-associated inflammation during key periods of development plays a significant role in driving differences in brain development between boys and girls.

Following the talks, a panel led by Dr. Kathleen Merikangas, Intramural Senior Investigator in the Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch at the National Institute of Mental Health’s Intramural Research Program, held an in-depth roundtable discussion of sex differences in child and youth mental health disorders. Dr. Merikangas and the three presenters, Drs. McCarthy, Schwarz and Osborne, were joined on the panel by Dr. Adriana Di Martino, Research Director of the Autism Center and Senior Research Scientist at the Child Mind Institute, and Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai, Clinician Scientist and O’Brien Scholar for the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative in the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto.

Watch the Roundtable Discussion

The roundtable discussion began with definitions of some important terminology such as “sex” versus “gender”, a brief overview of the epidemiology of sex differences, and some discussion around the complex interplay of sex and gender in mental health outcomes. Throughout this part of the discussion, the panel was careful to acknowledge both the benefit and harm of acknowledging a biologic basis for sex and gender differences. From there, the panel transitioned into how biology and the environment can impact the critical periods of development, touched on some examples of specific exposures that drive mental health disorders and discussed how better understanding of those exposures could lead to more nuanced interventions to prevent disease. They spoke about stress and how it can affect biologic systems, particularly during adolescence and other key periods of development, as well as how science can help shed light on some of the differences in stress reactivity that we see. Finally, the panel talked about how to apply the knowledge we gain from basic science to broader public education or policymaking efforts, and to ultimately reduce health disparities.

About the Presenters

Dr. Margaret (Peg) McCarthy completed a PhD at the Institute of Animal Behavior at Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University and was a National Research Council Fellow at NIAAA before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1993. She was a Professor in the Department of Physiology and Associate Dean for Graduate Education before becoming the Chair of the Department of Pharmacology in 2011 and the Director of the Program in Neuroscience in 2020.

McCarthy has a long-standing interest in the cellular mechanisms establishing sex differences in the brain. She uses a combined behavioral and mechanistic approach in the laboratory rat to understand both normal brain development and how these processes might go selectively awry in males versus females. She has published over 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts and her work has been cited over 20,000 times.

Dr. McCarthy is a Fellow and member-at-large of AAAS, a fellow in ACNP and is the former President of Organization for the Study of Sex Differences and President-Elect of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology. She was named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women in 2009 and awarded the University of Maryland Researcher of the Year and Champion of Excellence in 2015 and 2017. More recently, Dr. McCarthy’s distinguished career was recognized with the awarding of the James and Carolyn Frenkil Dean’s Professorship.

Dr. Kathleen Ries Merikangas is Intramural Senior Investigator in the Genetic Epidemiology Research Branch of the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Merikangas received a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in experimental psychology and music from the University of Notre Dame. She received clinical training at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine while she pursued a Ph.D. in chronic disease epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health. She completed postdoctoral training in population genetics/genetic epidemiology at the Yale University School of Medicine, where she joined the faculty and ultimately became a Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Psychiatry and Psychology and the Director of the Genetic Epidemiology Research Unit in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health.

Dr. Jaclyn Schwarz received her PhD from the University of Maryland Medical School, where she examined the mechanisms by which testosterone masculinizes neural circuits in the neonatal brain. She continued her training as a postdoctoral fellow at Duke University, where she studied how early-life experiences, including parental care, can program the function of the immune system, and thereby affect later-life brain and behaviors.  In her own lab as an associate professor at the University of Delaware, she studies the neural-immune mechanisms by which early-life immune activation (both bacterial and viral) can disrupt the development of important neural circuits that control learning, and how these mechanisms and effects may be different between males and females.

Dr. Brittany Osborne completed her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Delaware in 2019. Dr. Osborne currently is a senior research associate in the Bhatnagar Lab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHoP). She is interested in the interaction between stress and the neuroimmune system. In particular, Dr. Osborne is investigating the cellular and molecular events that underlie vulnerability to stress as it relates to sex differences in the orexin system.

Dr. Adriana Di Martino is an internationally recognized autism researcher and the founding research director for the Autism Center at the Child Mind Institute. She received her MD from the Universita’ degli Studi di Cagliari, School of Medicine in Cagliari, Italy. Dr. Di Martino has a long-standing research interest in autism spectrum disorder and how to best understand its neurobiology using brain imaging and a range of other clinical and cognitive approaches. Her study places a particular emphasis on detecting autism-related differences in brain connectivity that emerge in early childhood, with the goal of identifying objective biological markers that can one day be used to improve early intervention efforts and the selection of treatments. Dr. Di Martino is also a leader in efforts to recognize and understand overlaps in the neural bases of other neurodevelopmental conditions that commonly co-occur with autism, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Dr. Meng-Chuan Lai is a staff psychiatrist, clinician scientist and O’Brien Scholar in the Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. He is an Associate Professor and Co-Chair, Advisory Council for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Clinical Care in the Department of Psychiatry, and Graduate Faculty at the Institute of Medical Science and Department of Psychology, University of Toronto. Dr. Lai received his MD from the National Taiwan University and completed psychiatry residency and child and adolescent psychiatry subspecialty training at the National Taiwan University Hospital. He holds a PhD in psychiatry and neuroscience from the University of Cambridge, where he also conducted his post-doctoral research in autism neuroscience.