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MSU's new psychiatry and behavior medicine director to expand research, teaching opportunities

February 16, 2024
<p>College of Human Medicine Director of the Division of Psychiatry and Behavior Medicine Dr. Nagy Youssef. Courtesy of Nagy Youssef.</p>

College of Human Medicine Director of the Division of Psychiatry and Behavior Medicine Dr. Nagy Youssef. Courtesy of Nagy Youssef.

The Michigan State University College of Human Medicine has hired a new Director of the Division of Psychiatry and Behavior Medicine. Dr. Nagy Youssef will also work as a professor and the vice president of research at MSU’s partner Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

Youssef came to MSU from Ohio State University, where he worked as the Director of Clinical Research. In his new joint role with Michigan State and Pine Rest, he will work to advance research, clinical trials and education on neuroscience psychology.

The goal of Youssef’s research is to create a treatment for patients with mental health disorders who have not responded to standard therapeutics like medication and psychotherapy. Youssef said his primary interest is in brain stimulation and neuromodulation, a technique that acts directly on the nerves in the brain.

Targeting the nerves directly creates a more local treatment, Youssef said. This can help patients avoid potential side effects that may come from treatments affecting other systems in the body.

Additionally, focusing on the nerves addresses the root of the problem, as behavioral diseases stem from issues with nerve conduction in the brain, Youssef said.

“Psychiatric and neurological disorders … are related to nerves and synapses, and (with) medication, we target the messenger but not the message,” Youssef said. “The same way as sometimes when the medicine doesn’t work for arrhythmias in the heart, we do a cardioversion and do like an electric shock for the heart.”

As an MSU partner, Pine Rest provides a training space for medical students, fellows, residents and faculty. College of Human Medicine Dean Aron Sousa said having Youssef working in both locations will help expand opportunities for MSU students and faculty to collaborate on research as well as improve the residency program at Pine Rest.

“They have just an incredible breadth of expertise and a large number of patients,” Sousa said. “Dr. Youssef will be heading up education and research for them and for us there and it's a great opportunity.”

Pine Rest is a behavioral health organization with an inpatient hospital, 21 outpatient clinics, a psychiatric urgent care facility and residential facilities. Pine Rest Chief Medical Officer Bill Sanders said Youssef will be transformative for the organization because of his dedication to and experience with research.

“We would like our learners and our faculty and our staff here to be looking around and asking questions.,” Sanders said. “Dr. Youssef is going to help us answer those questions about what we can do to better provide effective care for patients in our community. I want to develop that culture in that environment for doing research.”

Youssef said he hopes to create more centers focused on resiliency, which he defined as preventative care for mental health disorders, and bring in more experts on brain stimulation. One of his main goals is to train a new generation of clinicians who understand the brain from both a psychological and neuroscientific perspective.

“The brain is just one organ, target organ, that sometimes we artificially divide into separate things, but it's not a very natural division,” Youssef said. “I think it makes physicians, scientists, PhDs better equipped to understand the brain and treat diseases.”

He said the partnership between MSU and Pine Rest was a main driver in his decision to take the joint position, and he looks forward to the opportunities that both organizations will provide.

“The combination of an academic center with a very strong research infrastructure along with the clinical operation here at Pine Rest, I think it's great,” Youssef said. “Why join? Because I think it's a very successful joint kind of working, for this organization to work together to create something great for the community.”

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