Boris Birmaher, MD, and David A. Brent, MD, Honored with Distinguished Professorships
Boris Birmaher, MD (Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Endowed Chair in Early Onset Bipolar Disease)
Dr. Birmaher, an international expert in child and adolescent psychiatry, has been a member of University of Pittsburgh Department of Psychiatry faculty since 1988.
His scientific and clinical contributions have been both exceptional and field-changing. Thirty-five years ago, the medical field did not recognize the existence of pediatric bipolar disorder (BD). Dr. Birmaher has proved that BD does exist in children and adolescents and he has led the field in demonstrating the course of the illness and in developing strategies to treat it.
Dr. Birmaher leads The Children of Bipolar Parents: A High Risk Follow-Up Study (BIOS), the largest high-risk study that prospectively follows offspring of bipolar parents and offspring of community control parents. BIOS found that subsyndromal manic symptoms, depressive episodes, mood lability, irritability and behavioral problems specifically increased the risk of BD in offspring of parents with BD. These findings have had important clinical implications for the treatment of BD and the study of the mechanisms underlying it. The Course and Outcome of Bipolar Disorder in Youth (COBY) study prospectively follows a large sample of youth with BD. His finding that a substantial subgroup had stable mood during most of the follow-up time suggests that a limited form of BD may exist, giving hope to patients and families that everyone with BD may not need lifelong treatment. Dr. Birmaher has played a leading role in establishing national and international practice parameters for the management of these disorders in youth and his work has influenced the discussion on important public policy issues such as the use of antidepressants in adolescent depression.
David A. Brent, MD (Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Epidemiology, and Clinical and Translational Science and Endowed Chair in Suicide Studies)
Dr. Brent, an international expert in the field of adolescent depression and suicide, joined the Department of Psychiatry faculty in 1982. His work has had a major influence on our understanding of the causes and prevention of depression and suicide in children and adolescents. He has provided the empirical framework for the assessment and treatment of adolescent depression and suicidal behavior, which has served as the foundation for evidence-based care for these at-risk youth worldwide.
Among Dr. Brent’s numerous ground-breaking contributions to research in this area is his finding that access to firearms is a risk factor for completed suicide, providing empirical evidence to support removal or securing of firearms in the home of individuals at risk for suicide and for public health approaches aimed at restricting access or improving safe storage of firearms. While his work identified depression as a major risk factor for adolescent suicide, he also was among the first to identify additional factors that contribute to suicidal risk, including impulsive aggression, behavior and substance abuse disorders, insomnia and high suicidal intent. These domains are now widely recognized as important treatment targets for suicidal adolescents.
In addition, Dr. Brent and his colleagues then translated these findings into actionable clinical interventions. He and his group were among the first to conduct clinical trials using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) for depressed adolescents, leading a multi-site study of treatment resistant depression in adolescents which established CBT as an effective means for preventing the onset of depression in high risk adolescents. Dr. Brent’s adaptation of CBT to the developmental needs of depressed and suicidal adolescents and their families is now one of the most widely utilized methods of treatment of adolescent depression.
Congratulations to Drs. Birmaher and Brent!