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Spotlight - Programs

Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders

Under the leadership of Service Chief Martin Lubetsky, MD, and faculty members Benjamin Handen, PhD and John McGonigle, PhD, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders provides excellent clinical services and also serves as an important environment for research and training.

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects about one out of every 68 children, and boys are almost five times more likey to be identified with autism than girls. Individuals with autism have difficulties with social interaction and communication, and unusual or intense interests or repetitive behaviors.

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC) under the leadership of Martin Lubetsky, MD, Chief of the Center and of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services, is one of 17 national locations of the Autism Treatment Network and serves as Western Pennsylvania’s Regional Autism, Services, Education, Resources and Training Center.  However, the Center’s impact reaches well beyond Western Pennsylvania. 

“What sets this program apart from others is the comprehensive evidence-based assessment and treatment approach to treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder across the lifespan,” said Dr. Lubetsky, “Teaching trainees, implementing clinical research, and providing tools and resources for parents really is what makes the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders unique from other programs.”

Under the leadership of Service Chief Martin Lubetsky, MD, and faculty members Benjamin Handen, PhD and John McGonigle, PhD, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders provides excellent clinical services and also serves as an important environment for research and training.

Through the efforts of Department of Psychiatry faculty and the Center’s dedicated clinicians and support staff, the program has garnered national and international attention for its educational, clinical and research activities.  For example, in October 2013, John McGonigle, PhD, traveled to Moscow, Russia, at the invitation of leaders coordinating the 2013 International Forum on Autism, to share his expertise on behavior assessments and management of autism across the lifespan and educating students with autism in the classroom.   Drs. Martin Lubetsky, Benjamin Handen, and John McGonigle collaborated on the book Autism Spectrum Disorder as part of the Pittsburgh Pocket Psychiatry Series published by Oxford University Press.  The book is used as part of the educational curriculum and a resource in many training programs across the United States. 

The Center provides an excellent environment for research designed to help individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families.  The Merck Inpatient Unit recently received a three-year national accreditation from the National Association on Dual Diagnosis (NADD) and the children and adolescents group was selected to join the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Inpatient Research Collaborative, a national effort of six specialized inpatient units, to develop best practice pathways for assessment and treatment with initial support from the Simons Foundation and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation.  With support from the Health Research Services Administration, Benjamin Handen, PhD is investigating the efficacy of a medication to decrease weight gain in children who are prescribed atypical antipsychotic medications (which often leads to significant weight gain) in the Merck Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic.  The Autism Treatment Network, under the direction of Dr. Handen and with support from the national Autism Speaks initiative, is dedicated to developing and implementing evidence-based assessment and treatment strategies for children, adolescents and adults with autism. 

The most effective treatment and care for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder starts in early childhood, with treatment starting in some children as young as 18 months. The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders has a range of programs and services for children including inpatient and outpatient, early intervention programs such as Autism Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, and Theiss  Early Autism Preschool Program, and summer programs offering intensive day treatment and therapeutic inclusion services. 

To meet the needs of adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the Center also offers a range of programs and services for adults including the Merck Adult Outpatient Clinic, Vocational Training Center and Supported Employment Program, and Merck Inpatient Unit for adults.   

To learn more about the Center and accessing their services, click here.


Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program

The Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program is an innovative career development program tailored specifically for newer Department of Psychiatry physician faculty at the Assistant Professor-level who are clinicians, educators and/or administrators.

Drs Alex Fertig and 

James Tew Jr.
Drs. Alexis Fertig and James Tew, Jr.

Led by James Tew, Jr., MD, Director, and Alexis Fertig, MD, Associate Director, the program aims to enhance the careers of our clinician educators through a series of activities including: facilitating effective mentoring teams; providing didactic materials relevant to career development; and fostering a peer network to support career growth and the attainment of career goals.

The structure of this unique program involves monthly one-hour meetings facilitated by the directors of the program and features presentations and discussions on a host of relevant topics. Participants are also encouraged to share their experiences and projects within the group at these meetings, and discuss mentor-mentee relationships, strategies for career development, and identifying new opportunities for professional growth. In addition to Drs. Tew and Fertig, the Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program is also supported by an advisory group strongly committed to the career development of our clinician educators. The advisory group consists of Karen Matthews, PhD, Kenneth Nash, MD, MMM, Lalith Solai, MD and Lori Zippay, Academic Administrator.

Participants are asked to commit to the program for a two-year period, during which time they will attend monthly meetings, establish a mentoring team, and identify and work on an academic project or initiative that falls within their individual goals for their own career development. The Department of Psychiatry established the program in 2011 and celebrated the graduation of the first group of clinician educator faculty members who successfully completed this program in January 2014. Monthly meetings for the new class of clinician educator program participants will begin in early 2014.

2014 Graduating Class of the Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program with Program Faculty
and Department Chairman, Dr. David Lewis

Participants in the program have been actively involved in the planning and implementation of the Annual Clinician Educator Showcase sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC). This annual event highlights innovative clinical practices and teaching methods, features sessions on support and strategies for career advancement for individuals in the clinician educator pathway, and celebrates the many accomplishments of the department’s dedicated clinician educators.

For more information about the Clinician Educator Faculty Development Program, please contact Dr. Tew at or Dr. Fertig at

The Department of Psychiatry has created several new resources to assist researchers in the appropriate conduct of research involving human subjects. These Department-specific resources recognize the importance and increasing complexity of human subjects research, and the particular challenges that face new investigators. Department efforts will be led by Christopher M. Ryan, Ph.D., former Director of the University of Pittsburgh Institutional Review Board, and Co-Director of the CTSI Regulatory Knowledge and Support Core. New resources include:

  1. Individual consultation during the career development award (K) review process. These consultations will focus on developing effective study designs and recruitment strategies that minimize risk to subjects and are consistent with IRB regulatory requirements and ethical principles.  Dr. Ryan will assist K award candidates in preparing the Human Subjects section of the application, developing consent forms and recruitment materials, and completing IRB OSIRIS applications.
  2. A Human Subjects workshop, offered 2 to 3 times a year, on preparation of consent forms and Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocols.  Workshops are targeted to new faculty members and to K award applicants who have submitted their applications. These small group workshops will include an overview of DHHS, FDA and University requirements for consent forms and IRB-other relevant documents, as well as review and discussion of those materials previously found to be effective by our local researchers.  Outcomes include preparation of consent documents, recruitment materials and an OSIRIS application for each participant’s planned or ongoing research study.
  3. Individualized formal (or informal) consultation on a range of topics related to the conduct of human subjects research. These consultations are open to all faculty and post-doctoral fellows, and may include, but are not limited to:
  • New study start-up support to ensure that key materials (e.g., manual of operations; inclusion/exclusion checklists; regulatory binders; etc.) are available and good clinical research practice guidelines are being followed.
  • Advice on completing OSIRIS applications, including the preparation of justifications for different types of waivers, and assistance in addressing special population issues, participant payments, recruitment strategies, data sharing plans, etc.
  • Development/revision of consent forms and recruitment materials
  • Training on good research practices, including optimal consent processes, for all members of the research team
  • Addressing human subjects related questions that arise during the preparation of a grant application, a study protocol, or an IRB OSIRIS application

In addition to the new initiatives described above, the University of Pittsburgh’s IRB and Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) also provide important resources designed to assist investigators in the preparation of research proposals, IRB applications, and the conduct of their research:


For consultation or more information, e-mail Dr. Christopher Ryan at

Psychosomatic Medicine Fellowship Program

The Department of Psychiatry is proud to announce the development and accreditation of a one-year Fellowship Program in Psychosomatic Medicine.

Led by Drs. Kurt Ackerman, Pierre Azzam, and Priya Gopalan, the Fellowship is a vital component of the Department’s long-standing commitment to scientific innovation, clinical excellence, and higher education at the interface of psychiatry and other medical disciplines.

Psychosomatic Medicine Fellows will gain experience through their service in a large academic psychiatry consultation program, and will obtain advanced training in several specialty areas including clinical neuroscience, women’s mental health, oncology, palliative care, transplantation, and HIV/AIDS. The program takes full advantage of the exceptional mentorship provided by enthusiastic and devoted Department of Psychiatry faculty representing diverse areas of expertise.

The Department of Psychiatry has forged strong relationships with numerous clinical programs throughout the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center that serve as training sites for Psychosomatic Medicine Fellows including:

  • The Psychiatry Consultation-Liaison Service at UPMC Presbyterian and Magee-Women’s Hospitals - Fellows will gain exposure to diverse and high-volume patient care with a wide array of medical, surgical, obstetrical-gynecological, and psychiatric presentations.

  • The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Care Institute – Through rotations in these programs, trainees will function as devoted psychiatric consultants within specialized oncology and palliative care teams.

  • The Starzl Transplantation Institute – Named in honor of transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas Starzl, the Transplantation Institute will provide fellows with the opportunity to provide longitudinal psychiatric care to patients at various stages of transplantation and in an array of clinical settings.

  • The Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment - Fellows will have the unique opportunity to collaborate with non-behavioral health providers as part of a multidisciplinary HIV-specialized clinic.

In addition to the invaluable experience they will gain in the programs listed above, fellowship participants also will take part in the Department’s extensive and eclectic education program that includes weekly didactic courses, case-based conferences, clinical supervision, individual mentorship, and completion of a personalized scholarly project.

Applications will be accepted through November 30, 2014 for positions commencing July 1, 2015. Click here for more information on the Psychosomatic Medicine Fellowship Program.


Program in the Spotlight
Services for Teens at Risk (STAR-Center)

Services for Teens at Risk (STAR-Center) is a specialty clinical, training, and research program of the Department of Psychiatry and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. Founded in 1986 by David Brent, MD, and Mary Margaret Kerr, EdD, STAR-Center provides a comprehensive suicide prevention center and an Intensive Outpatient Program for teens and children. With support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the outpatient clinic has provided assessment and treatment for over 7,800 youth at risk for suicide. Since 2007 and in partnership with Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, STAR-Center has offered expanded programs to treat pre-teens for depression and children and adolescents suffering from anxiety. In recognition of an important clinical need in our community, STAR-Center now provides care for children and adolescents with post-concussion syndrome, which often includes sleep difficulties, demoralization, depression, and suicidal ideation and work closely with colleagues in Sports Medicine and Pediatric Neurology on the management of these youth. In addition to treatment, the Center provides opportunities for clinical training and innovative research, both of which contribute to the overall mission of addressing the pressing issues of youth suicide.

STAR-Center offers a range of clinical programs to support children, adolescents, and their families. Children and adolescents can come to the STAR-Center for assessment and evaluation of current and past psychiatric problems. For those who decide to continue treatment, the Center has options for cognitive behavior therapy and pharmacology as part of their outpatient treatment program. For those requiring more intensive care than weekly therapy, the STAR-Center Intensive Outpatient Program treats adolescents; this program uses dialectic behavior therapy and cognitive behavior therapy. The center offers a monthly educational group for parents of children with depression and holds support groups for adults as well as youth who have lost a family member or loved one to suicide. Dr. Brent and his colleagues have recently launched a new program for youth and their families who will be graduating high school to help them learn to take responsibility for their own treatment in order to minimize the risk for relapse during the sometimes stressful transition to college or other post-high school activities.

A leading program in the field of youth suicide intervention, STAR-Center also provides an array of training and educational services to students, schools, community organizations, and mental health agencies. Kim Poling, LCSW, who serves as the Clinical Program Manager for STAR, has overseen training of numerous trainees in the assessment and management of youth at risk for suicide. Graduate and post-graduate students are eligible to participate in electives, offered for the Master, PhD, resident, and research fellow levels. The University of Pittsburgh also sponsors a graduate-level course on cognitive behavioral therapy taught by one current and one former STAR-center staff members. In addition to their work with trainees, STAR-Center provides resources for both families and professionals, such as handbooks and manuals on the topics of suicide treatment, living with depression, anxiety, and more. The Center also provides training programs and workshops such as community awareness education and postvention activities for schools following a suicide event.

Kim Poling, LCSW and David Brent, MD

At the foundation of the culture of the STAR-Center is the commitment to the importance of continued research to better understand the treatment and prevention of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior.

“STAR-Center has supported six major NIMH-funded clinical trials on the treatment and prevention of adolescent depression, child and adolescent anxiety, and adolescent suicidal behavior, and several other studies to understand the etiology of suicidal behavior,” said Dr. Brent, “One exciting new venture will be to develop a brief, inpatient intervention for suicidal youth to decrease recurrence of suicidal behavior and improve the transition to outpatient care.” Therefore, in addition to providing evidence-based treatment for youth with depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior, STAR-Center also adds to the evidence base and helps to improve our understanding of the cause and treatment of at-risk children and adolescents.

Visit the STAR Center website to learn more about this innovative program and the clinical and educational services available.

The Neuroscience Clinical and Translational Research Center (N-CTRC)

The Neuroscience Clinical and Translational Research Center (N- CTRC), is a valuable resource for researchers from a variety of disciplines. Located on the 13th floor of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC), the Center offers investigators a number of services including:

  • Investigational drug administration
  • Polysomnography (in-lab and in-home)
  • Sleep deprivation studies
  • Psychiatric assessments
  • Psychophysiological assessments (blood pressure, electroencephalography, 15-lead electrocardiography, heart rate, temperature, oximetry)
  • Specimen collection (blood, saliva, urine)

Facilities include five participant bedrooms, two time-isolation suites, a nurses' station, a sleep-recording control room, a treatment room, study preparation area, and patient lounge. Three bedrooms are equipped with IV ports for medication administration and blood sampling.

All patient rooms provide electroencephalography sleep, electrocardiography (EKG), respiration, oxyhemoglobin saturation, periodic limb movements, heart rate and heart-rate variability, core body temperature, skin temperature, mood, and performance monitoring capability. In addition, rooms are equipped to conduct Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (C-PAP) evaluations. Nursing personnel are available to conduct participant assessments, blood draws, 12-lead EKGs, participant monitoring during positron emission tomography procedures, and other nursing functions. The N-CTRC also has a pupillometer and eye-tracker. Electrophysiological equipment is supported by qualified systems and electronics specialists.


Hours of Operation

Polysomnography and overnight rooms are available 24 hours daily based on protocol needs.

Outpatient Nursing is provided from 6:00 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday. Additional hours are available upon request.



To learn more about how the Center can offer in terms of your own research projects, we invite you to contact the N-CTRC Manager, Christina Nicassio (Telephone: 412-246-6407; Email:



The University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute (UPSMI) is an integrated, multi-disciplinary program encompassing research, teaching, and clinical care. 

Under the leadership of Dr. David Kupfer (Director) and Drs. Daniel Buysse and Patrick Strollo, Jr. (Co-Directors), the UPSMI leverages the talent, infrastructure and resources of the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) and its partners to offer unique multidisciplinary training opportunities for young researchers, to support collaborative research initiatives across the lifespan with investigators from a wide range of disciplines, and to help translate promising new treatments into practice. 



David J. Kupfer, MD

Daniel J Buysse, MD

Patrick Strollo Jr, MD


The UPSMI coordinates activities of the Sleep Research Network, a consortium of CTSA institutions established in 2007 to promote multidisciplinary research collaborations that address significant public health and mechanistic questions related to sleep medicine. The network was created to promote and facilitate collaborative projects in sleep medicine, and to attract and support the training of the next generation of sleep medicine investigators. The network comprises researchers representing 40 of the current 60 CTSA institutions across the United States.

UPSMI activities focus on four core areas:  research, training, clinical interactions, and community outreach.  The Institute’s focus on the complex associations between sleep, health, and disease brings together experts engaged in research, clinical care, and educational programs throughout the University’s Schools of the Health Sciences. The UPSMI helps to coordinate sleep medicine activities across the University, including: one of the top three NIH-funded sleep research faculties in the United States;  an NIH-funded T32 training program in multidisciplinary, translational sleep medicine; the UPMC Sleep Center; and an ACGME-accredited clinical sleep medicine fellowship program.

Please visit the websites for the University of Pittsburgh Sleep Medicine Institute ( and the Sleep Research Network ( to learn more.