Psychedelics research in support of brain health is getting a major boost this month with the formation of the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Through $6.4M in private funding, the new division will take a unique translational research approach to integrate cutting-edge neuroscience technology with psychedelics treatment, including through a MAPS phase III trial for MDMA as a new treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“Our generous funders are making possible a major leap forward in generating evidence of clinical efficacy and safety for individuals using psychedelics to treat a broad range of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction,” says Adam Gazzaley, Executive Director of Neuroscape, a multidisciplinary research center at UCSF that bridges the gap between neuroscience and technology. “At Neuroscape, we have taken a neuroscience-based, closed-loop approach to creating experiential medicine, including the first FDA-cleared video game as a medical therapeutic. We are excited to apply this same approach to understanding how we can deliver psychedelic treatments in a more personalized and precisely-targeted manner.“
Heading up the new Neuroscape division as Founding Director will be Robin Carhart-Harris, one of the most cited researchers in the world in psychedelic science and the founder of the first center for psychedelic research at Imperial College London. “The founding of this new division is a hugely exciting development in the story of the psychedelic renaissance,” says Carhart-Harris, who is the newly endowed Ralph Metzner Distinguished Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at UCSF. “I’m delighted to be joining UCSF and the Neuroscape team and hope to steer this new division to great success.“
More than half a billion people suffer from debilitating mental health conditions worldwide, creating a pressing need for new clinical tools. Recent years have seen some progress in both clinical validation and mechanisms of action of specific psychedelic treatments, such as recent FDA Breakthrough Therapy Designation for MDMA and psilocybin to treat PTSD and depression, respectively. However, there is a surprising lack of innovative research into approaches aimed at optimizing the delivery of the treatments themselves, specifically exploring the role of context in enhancing treatment effects coupled with recording neural, psychological and physiological data.
The new Neuroscape Psychedelics Division aims to change that by focusing on the contextual elements that shape a patient’s experience. This includes the conditions that exist prior to, during, and after treatments—what has been referred to in the field as “set and setting.” This will be accomplished via studies that record patients’ neural and physiological status throughout all of these stages, while tailoring environment conditions, such as music, light and scent accordingly.
“This research will allow us to understand if a particular treatment is well-suited to an individual, assessing in real-time how an experience is unfolding. We aim to dynamically adjust key contextual elements in a way that guides patients toward an optimal experience — thus maximizing long-term, sustainable positive benefits,” says Jennifer Mitchell, Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at UCSF who will be leading the clinical trials on MDMA as a potential treatment for PTSD. “Our approach will allow us to further the personalized precision of psychedelic treatments.“
The $6.4M in funding came from a variety of private donors, including George Goldsmith and Ekaterina Malievskaia, Dominic van Almsick, Drew and Amy McKnight, Tim Ferriss, and the George Sarlo Foundation. Goldsmith and Malievskaia gave a $4M donation for the endowment of the Ralph Metzner Distinguished Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at UCSF.
“Ralph Metzner was a dedicated researcher, psychedelic therapist, friend, and mentor who was part of the original Harvard team that ushered in the academic study of psilocybin in the 1960s. We are honored to be providing this chair in his name,” says donor George Goldsmith. “As one of the leading scientists of this generation, we are delighted that Robin Carhart-Harris will be the first recipient of this professorship. We are confident that he and the team at Neuroscape will continue to advance innovation to transform mental health care.“
“The combination of Neuroscape’s translational approach and Robin Carhart-Harris’ deep experience in psychedelic research makes this a promising and exciting initiative,” says Michael Pollan, author of How to Change Your Mind. “It will help bring us closer to the time when psychedelic therapy is available to help alleviate the global mental health crisis.“
“I couldn’t be more excited to support the Neuroscape Psychedelics Division,” says investor and author Tim Ferriss. “Neuroscape and UCSF are perfectly poised to address fundamental questions about psychedelic therapies that have been largely untouched by research to date, and I believe this new effort represents the dream team for exploring this extremely promising and complex terrain.“
Neuroscape is a translational neuroscience center at UCSF engaged in technology creation and scientific research to better assess and optimize brain function of both healthy and impaired individuals. Learn more about Neuroscape’s translational research goals and current fundraising campaign on their website: neuroscape.ucsf.edu
The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF’s primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area. Learn more: ucsf.edu
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