It is with great sadness that we report the passing on Saturday July 25, 2009 of Julie Staley-Gottschalk, Ph.D., a beloved and esteemed member of the Department of Psychiatry. She will be greatly missed.
The following remembrance of Dr. Staley-Gottschalk was prepared by her colleagues Sherry McKee, Ph.D., Kelly Cosgrove, Ph.D., Irina Esterlis, Ph.D., Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, Ph.D., Stephanie O’Malley, Ph.D. Marina Picciotto, Ph.D. and Carolyn Mazure, Ph.D.
Julie was born in Rhinebeck, New York in 1965. She graduated from Hartwick College in Oneonta, NY in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry, and received her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC in 1992. From 1991-1995, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuropharmacology with Dr. Deborah Mash, then from 1995-1997 she was a Research Assistant Professor, both at the University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami, Florida where she conducted biochemistry studies in post-mortem human brain. Julie came to Yale in 1997 to complete a two year Postdoctoral Fellowship in Neurochemical Brain Imaging in the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and the West Haven Veterans Administration Medical Center with Dr. Robert Innis, in order to transition to the study of the living human brain. Following this, she joined the Yale School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor in Psychiatry and became an Associate Professor of Psychiatry with a secondary appointment in Diagnostic Radiology in 2006. In 2004, she was named the Director of Psychiatry’s SPECT Imaging Program.
During her twelve-year career at Yale, she touched many lives and contributed greatly to the advancement of science and knowledge in psychiatry. Julie’s research focused on the use of neuroimaging to understand the molecular causes and consequences of nicotine dependence, alcoholism, depression and other psychiatric disorders. Her scientific contributions were extraordinary in that she used her background in preclinical research to inform the experimental design of her human studies, allowing her to make strong conclusions about the molecular basis of psychiatric illness. Furthermore, beyond having the technical knowledge to oversee the development of imaging ligands, she had the ability to see the potential scientific applications of the imaging tool as well as the treatment implications of neuroimaging findings.
As a dynamic and energetic leader of the SPECT program at Yale, she validated a number of novel SPECT ligands for use in human brain imaging, and enhanced the study of SPECT radiotracers in humans thus allowing the advancement of nicotinic receptor imaging which is now being used in studies of nicotine dependence, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and schizophrenia.
Among her important findings, she demonstrated that smokers show a long-lasting increase in receptors for nicotine up to a month after they quit and that the increase in receptor availability is correlated with craving for cigarettes. Her work on serotonin transporter levels in depressed patients showed that women who are depressed have significantly lower levels of serotonin transporters in the brain, perhaps helping to explain why women are more likely to become depressed than men and have a better response to serotonin-based antidepressants. She was also a major proponent of studying sex and gender differences in the chemical make-up of the brain, and had been developing a ligand to image estrogen receptors.
Her contributions to research were recognized by the Society for Biological Psychiatry (Smith Kline -Beecham Award) and the Dana Clinical Hypotheses Program in Brain and Immunoimaging Award. Her work was well-funded by extramural granting agencies, and her two most recently funded projects included studies of the relationship between nicotinic receptor genes and the modulation of nicotinic receptor availability, and testing the effects of a novel nicotine vaccine.
In her capacity as Director of the SPECT program, Julie mentored many young researchers. She trained multiple postdoctoral fellows in her laboratory at the same time in preclinical and clinical neuroimaging. She brought enthusiasm to her laboratory and to the science she conducted and this was evident in her mentorship. She was a wonderful mentor and guided her students in their scientific advancements and in their life achievements. She was an exceptional model of an interdisciplinary scientist, for junior and senior faculty alike.
Julie waged an incredibly brave fight with a terrible illness and was remarkably strong. She loved being a scientist, it was really important to her - and she was great at it. Despite her illness, she continued to be excited and enthused by her latest findings. She continued to present at international conferences, write successful grants, and publish the results of her studies. Julie remained incredibly committed to mentoring those in her laboratory to ensure that they would continue to be successful in the trajectory of their work.
She is survived by her husband Christopher Gottschalk, M.D., her son Joshua, age 6, and step-daughters Lily, 17 and Grace, 14.