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Q&A with Wei Jang, MD

Dr. Wei Jiang is a renowned expert here at Duke, in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Medicine, on psychosocial risks for cardiovascular diseases. Dr. Jiang’s research focuses on the role of heart-mind interplay and her most recent publication in January 2013, demonstrated for the first time that mental stress induced myocardial ischemia (MSIMI) is more common than once thought, and that women and individuals who live alone were at increased risk of developing this condition. Watch for her similarly groundbreaking publication, investigating the effects of a common antidepressant on MSIMI, which will appear in JAMA on May 22, 2013.

How long have you been with Duke?

I have been at Duke for nearly 24 years. I came to Duke from China in August 1989 and have enjoyed being on faculty here ever since.

What is your role in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences? 

I have multiple roles in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. I am a senior researcher focusing on the connections between the mind-brain and the cardiovascular system. I am also an attending clinician and teacher, mentoring students and trainees to become good physicians and researchers. Furthermore, I have administrative roles for the Department and the University, including helping our department navigate the transition to Maestro Care. One may say that I serve as the bridge between the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Medicine—Cardiology services.

Tell us about your research on the relationship between mental health and cardiovascular health, including your upcoming publication in JAMA.

I have investigated the role of heart-mind interplay, including epidemiological cohort studies, mechanistic assessments, and therapeutics evaluations. I direct the Neuropsychocardiology Laboratory research program, which explores the relationships between mental health and cardiovascular diseases. I have also developed clinical services for cardiac patients with mental health needs at the Duke Heart Center. Some of my most significant research findings have included: increased risk of death among heart failure patients with depression; increased risk of cardiac events or death in patients who exhibit mental stress induced myocardial ischemia; and association of depression severity and occurrence of mental stress induced myocardial ischemia (MSIMI). I have led two of the largest clinical trials to date investigating the effects of psychotropic medication on cardiac patients; the results of which have uniquely contributed to the medical field. In January 2013, I published the pre-intervention results of the REMIT Study in Journal of American College of Cardiology; demonstrating for the first time that MSIMI is not only common, but more common than exercise induced ischemia in patients with clinically stable coronary heart disease. I also found that women and individuals who live alone were at increased risk of developing MSIMI. My most recent research findings on the effects of escitalopram, a common antidepressant, on MSIMI compared to placebo, will be published in JAMA on May 22, 2013.

Tell us a little bit about your work in China to raise awareness about and access to mental health services.

Since 2004 I have regularly traveled back to China to promote mental health care in non-traditional psychiatric settings. I have been planting these seeds of a paradigm shift in health care practice in China for many years and am finally seeing the growth. Chinese medical professionals are beginning to recognize the heart-mind significance and have devoted their careers to enhancing research and patient care in this area. Corresponding with the passage of the first Mental Health Law in China (published May 1, 2013), my Chinese colleagues and I have launched a formal project that systematically trains non-psychiatric providers to manage patients with common mental health problems. This project will progress into a research phase where we are able to measure the effectiveness of this training.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I am pleased that more and more non-psychiatric colleagues are beginning to recognize the significance of mental health on a patient’s overall physical wellbeing. It is also rewarding to see an increasing number of patients benefit from mind-heart/body integrated care.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

Aside from my busy work, I enjoy having my son as a healthy lifestyle coach, who encourages me to dance and to eat healthy. Through my example, I hope to promote healthy leisure activities, such as dance, as it is mentally and physically beneficial.

Below is a picture of Dr. Jiang performing at the 2013 Chinese Spring festival Gala, organized by the Chinese American Friendship Association of North Carolina. The ethnic dance she is performing in the photo is expressing the happy life of the Uighur ethnic group in Xinjiang province (located in North-West China)