Overall Research Goals:
My research interest over the past decade has focused on scaling up biochemical knowledge for gaining a deeper understanding of the molecular basis of neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders and finding ways to optimize their treatment. I have also made seminal contributions to the development of the metabolomics field and applications of metabolomics for the study of drug effects, establishing foundations for “Pharmacometabolomics”, a discipline that complements and informs pharmacogenomics and enables Precision Medicine initiatives. Over the next five years, I will continue to expand on these directions and applications of a systems biochemical approach, hoping to contribute in significant ways to President Obama’s Alzheimer’s Initiative as well as to Precision Medicine national and global initiatives. At the heart of my research is a deeper understanding of neuropsychiatric disease mechanisms, disease heterogeneity, and optimization of treatment for patients based on genotype, metabotype, microbiome activity and environmental influences and strategies for personalizing and optimizing treatment outcomes.
Biographical History and Educational Background:
With training in chemistry and biochemistry at the American University of Beirut during my PhD work, training in molecular biology during post-graduate training at Johns Hopkins (worked with Nobel Laureate Hamilton Smith) and with subsequent training in genetics and molecular biology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), I have gained a strong foundation in basic research. This broad training has enabled me to use integrated approaches and tools to solve problems in biology and to build foundations for a “systems biology” approach for the study of neuropsychiatric diseases and a “systems pharmacology” approach for the study of drug effects. During my work at MIT and while working closely with Professor Paul Schimmel, who played a seminal role in the evolution of the biotechnology industry, I developed a strong appreciation for applications of basic research and realized the importance of translation research and paths to develop new therapies based on novel findings. I have cofounded three biotechnology companies toward achieving this goal, the most recent being Metabolon, a biotechnology company that has played a central role in developments and applications of metabolomics in the medical field. I joined the Duke Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in 2005 as an Adjunct Associate Professor while transitioning out of Metabolon, then in 2006 became a full-time Associate Professor focusing on a deeper understanding of the molecular basis of neuropsychiatric diseases, and devoted significant time to the development of the metabolomics field and its applications. While at Duke, I have played scientific leadership roles nationally and internationally, led large consortia that created new scientific disciplines, made major contributions toward defining novel mechanisms in neuropsychiatric diseases and raised close to 20 million dollars for research funding (mainly NIH with not-for-profit and for-profit funding) in areas of precision medicine.
Academic Achievements and Scholarship:
Areas of research in which I have made significant contributions include:
1) The study of metabolic impairments in neuropsychiatric diseases including depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
2) Metabolomics technologies and applications for the study of human disease and treatment outcomes; helped create a community of metabolomics researchers.
3) Established foundations for “Pharmacometabolomics”, a new field for the applicatio