logobest_020Faculty Research

Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., VCBH Director, Professor Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, Vice Chair Department of Psychiatry 
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My work as the Director of the VCBH spans a number of research projects. I am the P.I. for the Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE), which focuses on investigating relationships between personal behaviors (lifestyle) and risk for chronic disease and premature death. Unhealthy personal behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, physical inactivity) account for 40% of premature deaths in the U.S. annually and substantially increase healthcare costs and health disparities. There is a tremendous need for greater scientific understanding of the mechanisms underpinning vulnerability to these risk behaviors; and, more effective interventions to promote behavior change. 
     I am also the P.I. for our Tobacco Center on Regulatory Science (TCORS) grant using the concepts, principles, and methods of behavioral economics and behavioral pharmacology to help the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products in carrying out its charge of regulating tobacco products. Our center focuses specifically on tobacco products in vulnerable populations, including women of childbearing age/pregnant women, individuals with co-morbid other substance use disorders, and individuals with co-morbid serious mental illness. 
     In addition, I lead two R01 research grants. The first is studying behavioral economic interventions for smoking cessation among pregnant woman and the second is investigating the same among mothers of young children. 
     Lastly, I am the P.I. for our T32 training program which has been continuously funded since 1990 and provides pre-doctoral and postdoctoral training programs in substance abuse and health behavior research.

John R. Hughes, M.D., TCORS Associate Director, Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychological Sciences
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We have recently completed studies of a) whether stopping e-cigarettes causes withdrawal in former smokers and in never-smokers, b) the natural history of never-smokers taking up e-cigarette use and c) a meta-analysis of the relative magnitude of addiction to e-cigarettes vs. tobacco cigarettes.   We are currently conducting a meta-analysis of whether smoking cessation  decreases positive affect.

Andrea Villanti, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry 
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My research is focused on youth and young adult tobacco and substance use, including prevention and cessation. One of my current studies, supported by the COBRE (P20GM103644), focuses on improving cessation in socioeconomically-disadvantaged young adult smokers. For the past several years, I have also conducted rapid, responsive research to inform tobacco-related policies, particularly the FDA regulation of tobacco products. A focus of my work in this area has been on the disproportionate prevalence of menthol and other flavored tobacco product use in young people and I co-lead a study on the substitutability of other tobacco products for menthol cigarettes in the event of a menthol ban (R21DA046333). I also conduct research on health communication related to substance use and policies, including a study to examine perceptions of nicotine and relative harm of tobacco products in U.S. young adults (R03CA212694) with the goal of informing public education on nicotine. I also collaborate with the Vermont Department of Health on a cohort study of Vermont youth and young adults focused on evaluating state-level substance use-related policies and communication efforts (www.pacevt.org).

Hugh Garavan, Ph.D., Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology, VCBH Director of Neuroimaging
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The lab has increased over the last year.  We received R01 funding for ENIGMA-Addiction, a data-pooling project in which labs from all over the world contribute structural and functional MRI data for large-scale meta- and mega-analyses.  The focus is to understand the neurobiological basis of substance dependence and its genetic correlates.  The lab also has a new T32 which trains pre- and postdoctoral fellows on the application of machine-learning methods to the analysis of large neuroimaging-genetic datasets.  The ABCD study, a longitudinal study of adolescents, has completed recruitment and already generated numerous papers arising from it open science data release.  Finally, we continue to work with the large European dataset of adolescent development, IMAGEN, which now includes longitudinal data on over 1,000 participants imaged at three points between ages 14 and 23.  All these ongoing projects focus primarily on understanding the causes and consequences of substance use and related psychopathology.


Allison Kurti, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of PsychiatryImage of Allison Kurti

My research focuses broadly on designing and implementing behavioral interventions to promote health among vulnerable populations, with an emphasis on cigarette smoking cessation among socioeconomically disadvantaged women.  I am also interested in incorporating technology in behavioral interventions (e.g., Smartphones, remote behavior monitoring devices) to increase their attractiveness and their reach.  I am currently preparing to lead a study examining the feasibility, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of a Smartphone-based financial incentives intervention to promote smoking cessation among pregnant women. In addition, as a member of a working group focused on tobacco use cessation in vulnerable populations, I am leading projects examining use of tobacco and nicotine products in national samples of women of reproductive age, as well as how patterns of tobacco and nicotine use change upon transitioning into and out of pregnancy.

Kelly Peck, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of PsychiatryPeck_Kelly (1)

My research interests are two-fold.  I have conducted research focused on the development and evaluation of novel treatments for opioid misuse and use disorder. Most recently, this has included work on two randomized clinical trials evaluating a novel interim buprenorphine treatment for reducing illicit opioid use and other high-risk behaviors among adults with untreated opioid use disorder.  I also have a research interest focused on the delivery and evaluation of cognitive-behavioral treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder in individuals with concurrent substance use disorders.  I am currently preparing to integrate these two areas of research as I direct a study investigating the contribution of prolonged exposure therapy, an efficacious manualized cognitive-behavioral treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, above and beyond opioid agonist treatment alone for reducing posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms among patients with concurrent posttraumatic stress disorder and opioid use disorder.

Philip Ades, M.D., VCBH Associate Director, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine 
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I am working closely with Diann E. Gaalema, Ph.D., on an NIH-supported study (Gaalema PI) evaluating and comparing the effects of financial incentives vs early case-management on cardiac rehabilitation participation rates in lower socio-economic cardiac patients.  Our recent COBRE-funded study on incentives and cardiac rehabilitation participation has been completed and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.   I am also mentoring Sherrie Khadanga M.D., who has just come on as junior faculty in Cardiology on a study looking to determine behavioral factors that result in lower cardiac rehabilitation rates for women vs. men. COBRE pilot funding will support this work. We are also working on a randomized-controlled trial optimizing exercise-training results for women in cardiac rehabilitation. I continue my work with the CDC working on methods to increase cardiac rehabilitation participation across the U.S. In 2016 I became the first University of Vermont Philip Ades M.D. Endowed Professor of Cardiovascular Prevention.

Stacey C. Sigmon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology 
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My current research has two primary areas of focus. I have a clinical opioid research program aimed at developing and expanding access to efficacious treatments for opioid use disorder.  This includes ongoing randomized clinical trials evaluating our recently-developed interim buprenorphine dosing regimen for reducing illicit opioid use, injection drug use and related risk behaviors in untreated opioid abusers.  I also have a longstanding research interest aimed at leveraging behavioral economic principles to support healthy behaviors, especially among disadvantaged populations.  Currently this involves tackling cigarette smoking among the challenging population of opioid-dependent patients, part of a series of studies being conducted with vulnerable populations in our Center on Tobacco Regulatory Science.  Finally, I am the Director of Vermont's first and largest opioid treatment program, which currently delivers methadone or buprenorphine maintenance treatment to approximately 1,000 Vermonters.

Sarah H. Heil, Ph.D., Associate Professor with Tenure, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychological Sciences
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I am completing a randomized controlled dismantling trial of an intervention to promote more effective contraceptive use among opioid-maintained women at risk for unintended pregnancy.  I am also leading a multi-site trial with a colleague to compare medically-supervised withdrawal vs. agonist maintenance in the treatment of pregnant women with opioid use disorder in terms of maternal and neonatal outcomes.  In addition, I am beginning a study evaluating the effects of extended exposure to very low nicotine content cigarettes in pregnant women of low socioeconomic status, part of a series of studies being conducted with vulnerable populations in our Center on Tobacco Regulatory Science.

Diann E. Gaalema, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology
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My research broadly focuses on measuring and improving health-related behaviors in vulnerable populations. In one large study, we look at the effects of different levels of nicotine in cigarettes among several vulnerable groups including those with depression and anxiety. I lead another large study that examines the use of incentives and case-management to improve attendance at cardiac rehabilitation among lower socio-economic-status patients. My lab also conducts several other research projects including several at the intersection of tobacco use and cardiac health as well the use of e-cigarettes in vulnerable populations.

Richard Rawson, Ph.D., Research Professor, Department of Psychiatry
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During the past 12 months, I have been leading the evaluation of an innovative project at the UVM medical Center emergency department in which individuals with opioid use disorder who present in the ED are offered buprenorphine induction, immediately, on-site.  This project is greatly expanding access of medication treatment for opioid use disorder.  In response to increasing rates of cocaine and methamphetamine use in Vermont and around the US, I am delivering lectures, webinars and technical assistance to organizations and state agencies.    These activities, together with my participation in numerous community, state and national meetings/trainings on opioid and stimulant addiction policy, represents the dissemination core of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health.

Bader Chaarani, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry

My research mainly focuses on investigating the relationship between psychiatric disorders and the adolescent brain using structural and functional neuroimaging. I am currently co-investigator on the ongoing longitudinal Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) project, the largest neuroimaging study ever conducted, where I am involved in the quality control and processing of the imaging data. In one project, I'm looking at functional brain activation patterns associated with the neuroimaging tests of cognitive control, reward and working memory. Further, I'm assessing the reliability of these activation patterns and their sensitivity to individual differences in performance. In another project, I'm looking at the impact of video gaming and other screen time measures on the brain in a large sample of children. Alongside my current research, I am also interested in applying novel machine learning techniques on big data sets to identify the neurobiological, genetic and behavioral risk factors underlying substance use and psychiatric diseases.