Principal Investigator

Joshua D. Woolley, MD/PhD

 

Dr. Josh Woolley MD/PhD is an Assistant Professor in Residence, Step 2 in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as well as a staff psychiatrist in Mental Health at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (SFVAMC). Dr. Woolley received his bachelor’s degree from Brown University with a double major in Biology and Philosophy. He received both his MD and his PhD in Neuroscience from UCSF.  Throughout his career, Dr. Woolley has moved between the clinic and research laboratory, taking inspiration for methodologically sound scientific investigation from the careful observation of individual patients. As a graduate student, Josh worked closely with patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and noticed the significant impact of disease-related social skills deficits on patients’ quality of life. Later on during his clinical training, he recognized the importance of social support in recovery from psychiatric disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder, alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, and schizophrenia, and the toll that symptoms of a multitude of psychiatric disorders take on social relationships. As a physician, Josh recognized the lack of current clinical interventions for pathological social behavior and it was clear that these patients’ profound social deficits isolate them from important sources of social support. This insight in combination with his longstanding interest in the mechanisms of behavior led him to focus his area of study on understanding and treating social cognitive deficits across various mental illness diagnoses.

Dr. Woolley is currently the principal investigator and founder of the Bonding and Attunement in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (BAND) Laboratory. The mission of the BAND Lab is to understand the mechanisms of social connection in general, understand why people with mental illness have trouble with social connection, and develop and test novel treatments for these deficits. In particular, Dr. Woolley has been studying the mechanisms underlying social cognitive deficits found across different mental illness diagnoses including schizophrenia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders. He is examining the potentially beneficial behavioral, neural, and physiological effects of an intranasal spray of oxytocin or cognitive computerized training in alleviating these social cognitive difficulties in these populations. In addition to these ongoing projects, Dr. Woolley is also investigating the psychobiological mechanisms underlying group cohesion and trust as well as developing pharmacologically enhanced group interventions for these psychiatric illnesses.

Finally, besides being a gifted researcher, Dr. Woolley is also a dedicated research mentor, clinician, and educator. Over the course of his young career, Dr. Woolley has served as a mentor or co-mentor to over 80 research assistants and over 20 postdoctoral fellows. Indeed, many of his research assistants have gone on to graduate or medical school. Furthermore, Dr. Woolley’s first post-doctoral fellow was recently awarded his own VA Career Development Award and is starting his own laboratory closely affiliated with Dr. Woolley’s. Clinically, Dr. Woolley is the Associate Director of the Psychosis clinic at the SFVA where he supervises and trains medical students, psychiatry residents and clinical and research fellows. He is also the Co-Director of the first-year medical school psychiatry course, Brain Mind and Behavior. Dr. Woolley has been awarded several awards for his dedication to teaching. In sum, Dr. Woolley is a truly dedicated mentor and has already contributed significantly to training the next generation of clinicians and scientists.

While early in his career, Dr. Woolley has received numerous intramural and extramural awards including the NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation, and Young Investigator and travel awards from the California Society for Addiction Medicine, the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology, and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. His work is supported by the Department of Veteran Affairs as well as the Department of Defense and philanthropic support. He has also published his work widely in high-impact journals including Schizophrenia Bulletin, Biological Psychiatry, American Journal of Psychiatry and many others.

Apart from his research life, Josh is happily married and spends much of his free time chasing around his 2 year-old daughter, Nora, around the house and passing along the various dance moves he’s acquired over the years.