The Science Behind Anxiety and Depression • Joyonna Gamble-George, PhD

(Health Scientist & Policy Fellow, National Institutes of Health || MD USA)

“I’m interested in the intersection of biomedical sciences with social and behavioral sciences. I’m trying to understand how psychological, social, and environmental factors interact in the development of mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and addiction. Studying this goes all the way from research on stem cells — differentiating them into neurons and studying signaling pathways biochemically, to genetic sequencing, to brain imaging, to gathering behavioral data with surveys. For example, if you know someone has a specific genetic signature, and that has some interaction with an early childhood adversity, then you could know that will lead to certain changes in the brain that translate to changes in behavior like anxiety or depression. The next step is figuring out how to make things better for them with a treatment like drug therapy or counseling, since you know the root cause.

Right now I’m at the National Institutes of Health as a AAAS science and technology policy fellow. I work on policies and programs for improving heart, lung, blood, and sleep health with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The main part of my job is serving as an expert science advisor for physicians who work on clinical trials for people living with HIV and chronic heart and lung disorders. My goal, though, is to go back to academia — I found my niche in health sciences during my PhD in neuroscience and my postdoc. We were studying drug repurposing — these are drugs already approved by the FDA to treat one disease, and we try to see whether they can be used to treat another — as well as researching drug therapies to treat people with anxiety and depression.

There’s a great quote I saw, ‘Life is like a camera — focus on what’s important, capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out, take another shot.’ I’ve had a lot of negativity in my life, but I just kept pushing forward. Don’t let other people’s negativity keep you from your path — turn it into positive energy to pursue your goals.”

~Joyonna Gamble-George, PhD