We believe the key to mental health and well-being starts with strong relationships. Our mission is to develop novel pharmacological and cognitive interventions for mental illness that enable patients to strengthen their connections to other people and the world.
Director Josh D. Woolley MD/PhD and the Bonding and Attunement in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (BAND) Lab are broadly interested in psychiatry, neurobehavioral disorders, and affective neuroscience. Specifically, Dr. Woolley is interested in the role the neuropeptide oxytocin plays in social functioning and how manipulations of neurohormonal mechanisms involving oxytocin can lead to new therapeutic treatments for a variety of psychiatric conditions. Dr. Woolley studies the effects of oxytocin administration on the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, dyadic family interactions between young adults with mental illness and family members, social functioning and preferences for drugs in substance abusers, and team cohesion in ROTC recruits. Our studies evaluate the effects of oxytocin by utilizing behavioral measures as well as neuroimaging methodologies in both clinical and healthy populations. In addition, Dr. Woolley investigates the use of iPad-based cognitive training exercises to treat cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia.
Dr. Woolley's work with oxytocin led him to hypothesize that pharmacological treatments that affect social processes could be paired with psychosocial treatments to possibly achieve synergistically enhanced outcomes. With substantial philanthropic support, he is now developing several studies combining novel pharmacological interventions with psychotherapy to target difficult to treat psychiatric conditions, including depression in bipolar affective disorder, existential distress in neurodegenerative disorders, and demoralization in chronic pain disorders.
Dr. Woolley has been studying the underpinnings of social deficits in schizophrenia and is currently examining oxytocin's potential as a treatment for the social dysfunction observed in patients with schizophrenia. Individuals with schizophrenia often demonstrate significant social cognitive deficits that can impair the formation and maintenance of healthy relationships, and negatively impact social interactions and community participation. However, there are currently no pharmacological treatments available to target these deficits. In healthy individuals, the natural hormone oxytocin has been shown to enhance social abilities such as understanding emotions and trusting others. Thus, a primary focus of our research has been to examine whether supplementary oxytocin administration can improve social cognition in individuals with schizophrenia, which may ultimately lead to stronger relationships, improved social and occupational functioning, and a higher overall quality of life.
We are currently engaged in a study that utilizes neuroimaging (fMRI) to explore oxytocin-induced brain changes in Veterans with schizophrenia when engaged in social cognitive tasks. This study will also behavioral measures to assess the effects of chronic oxytocin administration on social cognitive ability in Veterans with schizophrenia.
Dr. Woolley's research group is also conducting the first clinical trials of psilocybin for novel conditions that lack effective treatments, including mood symptoms in Parkinson's disease, depression in bipolar affective disorder, and demoralization in chronic pain. Each of these trials could lead, in time, to a completely novel treatment approach for these disorders. This work is funded by philanthropic donations and industry sponsors, including MAPS and the USONA Institute.
In addition, Dr. Woolley also works closely with Dr. Steven Batki, Dr. David Kan, and research fellow Dr. Chris Stauffer at the San Francisco VA Medical Center's on studies that examine whether oxytocin can used as an adjunct treatment for overcoming opioid dependence and other substance use disorders.
To learn more about our active studies, or to sign up to be a paid research participant, please visit our Current Studies Page.
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We are working hard to develop novel pharmacological and cognitive interventions for mental illness that enable patients to strengthen their connections to other people and the world. Whether your gift is large or small, you have the power to make a lasting, significant contribution to the Bonding and Attunement in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (BAND) Laboratory of the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.
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