Vermont Center on Behavior & Health
Upcoming VCBH Events

Wednesday, November 20: VCBH Lecture Series featuring, Robert Althoff, MD, PhD
Time & Location: 12:00pm, UVM Davis Auditorium
Title: Assessing Risk for Suicide in Healthcare Settings: Development and Testing of Novel Approaches

Friday, December 13: UVM Psychiatry Grand Rounds & VCBH Lecture Series featuring, Michael Fiore, MD, MPH, MBA
Time & Location: 10:30am, UVM Davis Auditorium

VCBH NIH Research Fellowship Opportunities

We are currently recruiting for one NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Please visit our Career Opportunities page to learn more about these positions and to review the application instructions. 


UVMMC Cardiologist and VCBH Pilot Project Director, Sherrie Khadanga, MD, was awarded "Young Investigator of the Year" at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR) held in Portland, OR. The title of her study was, "Optimizing the Exercise Training Response in Women in Cardiac Rehabilitation."

Diann Gaalema, Ph.D., recieves acceptance on paper titled, "Systematic Review of Cardiac Rehabilitation Guidelines: Quality and Scope", in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology!

Stephen Higgins, PhD, and Richard Rawson, PhD chaired a panel on the US opioid epidemic at the Northeast Regional IDeA Conference. The multidisciplinary panel brought together clinical researchers to dsicsus efforts to curtail this epidemic and reduce its impact, specifically in northern New England. View the presentations slides, here.

A new paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine on the "Association of Cumulative Socioeconomic and Health-related Disadvantage with Disparities in Smoking Prevalence in the United States, 2008-2017", is a collaborative effort of the USC and UVM TCORS with Adam Leventhal, PhD (USC TCORS) as lead author and Stephen Higgins, PhD, as co-author.

VCBH Research News

Sigmon Awarded HRSA Center Grant to Reduce Impact of Opioid Epidemic in Rural Communities Stacey Sigmon headshot

Stacey Sigmon, PhD, has been awarded a $6.7 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) to establish the University of Vermont Center on Rural Addiction. This center will aim reduce impact of the opioid epidemic, specifically in rural communities as there is a critical need to leverage evidence-based tools to expand opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment capacity and reduce opioid-related morbidity and mortality in rural communities, which have been disproportionately impacted. The Center will work to identify, translate, disseminate and implement science-based practices to address the rural OUD epidemic, as well as future substance use disorder epidemics as they emerge. 

Sigmon and colleagues will bring a science-based approach to addressing OUD in rural communities through dissemination of best practices, enhanced and integrated clinical care services, development and evaluation, epidemiological surveillance, and rural addiction prevention. The collaborating partners include the University of Vermont, University of Vermont Medical Center, University of New Hampshire, and University of Southern Maine. Through close collaboration with partners in each state, a common “menu” of technological-based tools, and a comprehensive surveillance and evaluation infrastructure, we will aim to support expansion of evidence-supported OUD treatment capacity in rural communities.

Read the full press release, here.

Sarah Heil

Heil Partners with UVMMC and African Community Center to Improve Reproductive Health Efforts in Uganda

Sarah Heil, Ph.D. is collaborating with colleagues from the UVMMC Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences and the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS) in Nakaseke, Uganda on a project to reduce rapid repeat pregnancy among newly postpartum women in rural Uganda.  Rapid repeat pregnancies (RRP) occur within 24 months of a prior pregnancy and are associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including double the rate of infant and child under-five mortality and significant maternal morbidity and mortality.   Although 95% of postpartum women in Uganda wish to avoid RRP, only 25% use birth control and those who do use contraception often use the least effective methods.  Dr. Heil developed and has tested a promising intervention to reduce unintended pregnancy among women in opioid agonist treatment and is completing a fully randomized dismantling trial with this population. Working with Drs. Anne Dougherty (UVMMC) and John Mundaka (ACCESS), the team completed mixed methods work to inform the adaptation of the intervention for use with the Ugandan population.  They published their first paper together on Ugandan men’s knowledge and use of family planning (Dougherty et al., 2018) and in March 2019, Drs. Heil and Dougherty traveled to Nakaseke to spend a week working and training with the ACCESS team.  An initial pilot study of five women provided encouraging results and the team will soon embark on a small-randomized controlled trial.

Gaalema Receives Promotion to Associate Professor Diann Gaalema, PhD

Diann Gaalema, PhD, has received a promotion to Associate Professor along the Research Scholar Pathway, in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Vermont. Dr. Gaalema has established national recognition for her research and scholarship related to improving participation in cardiac rehabilitation among lower socioeconomic status patients. The main outcomes from one of her trials were recently published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology- Heart Failure, with an accompanying editorial. In addition to her collaboration with VCBH and TCORS, she received her first NIH grant in August. She has published 58 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and she regularly presents at national and international scientific meetings.

Villanti Partners with Vermont Department of Health to Launch PACE Study

PACE LogoAndrea Villanti, PhD, MPH, has partnered with the Vermont Department of Health (VDH) to launch the Policy and Communication Evaluation (PACE) study to understand the impact of state-level policies and communication campaigns on substance use beliefs and behaviors in young Vermonters. 

The study will enroll approximately 2,000 youth aged 12-17 and 1,000 young adults aged 18-25. Participants will completed three brief online surveys over a six-month period that included questions about tobacco, alcohol, and substance use beliefs and behaviors, awareness of and support for substance-related policies, and exposure to statewide tobacco substance use prevention initiatives.

Dr. Villanti and Christie Vallencourt with the VDH recently completed in interview discussing the study, with Vermont Public Radio. 

NIDA Notes features Sigmon's Research on Interim Buprenorphine during Treatment DelaysNIDA Notes Logo

NIDA Notes, an online news platform providing in-depth coverage of research findings on drug abuse and addiction, recently featured Stacey Sigmon's, PhD, work on interim treatment with buprenorphine for those awaiting treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD). VCBH predoctoral fellow, Ms. Joanna Streck, Dr. Sigmon, and colleagues developed and tested the interim treatment in a 12-week study. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders among those with OUD is very high, and this treatment has been shown to mitigate psychological distress in addition to reducing opioid use.

Dr. Sigmon notes, "It is exciting that providing just some basic pharmacotherapy and technology-assisted monitoring may attenuate psychiatric distress in this vulnerable group while they await more comprehensive treatment."

Ms. Streck was the first author on the manuscript summarizing the study findings.

Kurti Receives Prestigious APA Div 28 Award

Allison Kurti, Ph.D.Allison Kurti, Ph.D., has received the 2019 American Psychological Association (APA) Div 28 Young Psychopharmacologist Award! This award honors a young scientist doing original, meritorious work in psychopharmacology and encourages excellence in research at the interface between the disciplines of pharmacology and psychology. Dr. Kurti was nominated for the award by VCBH Director, Stephen Higgins, PhD.

Dr. Kurti is excited and honored to receive this award, and is deeply appreciative of the opportunities and support that her mentors, colleagues, and peers have provided her, which she feels have put her in the position to receive this honor.

Sigmon Elected 2020-2021 CPDD President  Stacey Sigmon, PhD

Stacey Sigmon, PhD, has been elected as the 2020-2021 College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD) President.  Dr. Sigmon is an Associate Professor with Tenure at the University of Vermont with the VCBH.  CPDD is the oldest and largest organization in the US dedicated to advancing a scientific approach to substance use and addictive disorders.  CPDD’s mission is to provide a national and international forum for scientists of diverse backgrounds to advance the understanding of molecular-neurobiological aspects of addictive disorders and, by the application of new scientific knowledge, to improve and develop treatments utilizing novel behavioral and pharmacological therapies.  Dr. Sigmon is a also current member of the CPDD Board of Directors and was the 2016 President for the American Psychological Association's Division on Psychopharmacology and Substance Use.  Congratulations, Dr. Sigmon!

Vermont Center on Behavior and Health Receives $30+ Million in Grant Renewals

Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D.University of Vermont (UVM) Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychological Science, and Director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health (VCBH), Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., has announced the successful renewal of two multi-million dollar Center grants.

The Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, and the Tobacco Center of Regulatory Science (TCORS) award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and U.S. Federal and Drug Administration (FDA) will bring in over $30 million in federal funding to support another five years of research on the intersection of behavior and health, replicating what had been an unprecedented accomplishment at UVM when these two centers were first funded in September, 2013. 

The COBRE will continue its focus on increasing understanding of the mechanisms underpinning vulnerability to unhealthy behavior patterns and developing effective behavior-change interventions, with the end goal of establishing a productive, stand alone Center of research excellence. The TCORS will focus on a major policy under consideration by FDA's Center for Tobacco Products that would reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes below an addiction threshold.

Click here for the full press release on the COBRE and TCORS Awards!

VCBH/UVM Faculty & UVMMC Physicians Awarded SAMHSA Grant to Expand Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder

University of Vermont (UVM) Faculty, Richard Rawson PhD, and Scott Mackey, PhD, along with University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) Psychiatrist, Sanchit Maruti, MD, and Emergency Medicine Physician, Daniel Wolfson, MD, have been awarded a 3-year grant aimed at expanding medication assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD) in emergency departments (ED's) around the state.

The current practice of providing ED patients with OUD with a referral to treatment is often a missed opportunity to engage patients in MAT. Funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), this grant will allow three Vermont medical centers the opportunity to establish a new intervention to initiate treatment for those presenting with OUD at the ED, then transfer these patients to a community treatment center.

Principal Investigators, Drs. Mackey, Maruti, and Wolfson, will lead the study and Dr. Rawson will act as the evaluator to determine the effectiveness of initiating treatment in this setting.

Preventive Medicine Fifth Special Issue, December 2018

Published: Preventive Medicine Fifth Special Issue, December 2018

The December 2018 Special Issue of Preventive Medicine (PM) is the fifth in a series that focuses on behavior change, health, and health disparities. Contributors to these Special Issues are selected from participants in the 2017 VCBH 5th Annual Conference on Tobacco Regulatory Science.

The topics covered in this Special Issue are specific to tobacco regulatory science, a field which assures that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center of Tobacco Products (CTP) has the multidisciplinary scientific input necessary to conduct evidence-based regulation. More specifically, this issue focuses on a set of three current topics in tobacco regulatory science:

1) Examining current research examining the effects of a potential national policy that would reduce the nicotine levels in cigarettes to minimally addictive levels.

2) Increasing scientific understanding on the risk and patterns of cigarette smoking and other tobacco use in vulnerable populations.

3) Potential role of e-cigarettes and other non-combusted sources of nicotine as less harmful substitutes for combusted products for those unwilling or unable to quite nicotine use.

2017-2018 VCBH Year in Review

Click here to read the 2017-2018 VCBH Year in Review.