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Brains Behind the Institute

Carolyn Rodriguez

Carolyn Rodriguez

Assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences

From time to time, most of us have out-of-the-blue intrusive thoughts, such as "Did I leave the stove on?"

We may feel compelled to go back and check the stove to make sure we've actually turned it off. For some people, however, these thoughts and behaviors occupy more than one hour a day, cause distress, and interfere with daily functioning, thus crossing the line into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

When I met a patient with OCD early in my training, I was immediately struck not only by his private suffering, but also by the physical manifestations that made his life harder. His distressing intrusive thoughts about contamination caused him to always wear gloves when he went outside. He washed his hands excessively, and when he took his hands out of his gloves, they were red and raw. His pain strongly moved me.

After I started treating patients with OCD, I became increasingly frustrated with our first-line treatments. Medications and therapy leave many individuals with residual symptoms, and there is often a lag time of two to three months before people feel substantial relief. That's why I utilize my training as a psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and clinical researcher to discover the causes of OCD and develop innovative treatments that will quickly quiet the obsessive brain and ultimately, cure OCD. Currently, our interdisciplinary team is investigating the brain mechanisms underlying ketamine’s rapid effects in OCD.

The best moments of my career have been seeing patients experience rapid relief from their OCD symptoms. When I first tested ketamine in a patient suffering from severe, long-standing OCD, she turned to me within a few hours and said, "This is like a vacation from my OCD." It was satisfying to test the hypothesis after navigating numerous challenges, and to see the surprise, relief, and the smile on the patient's face. And it was a reminder of why translational research that delivers direct application to patients is so rewarding.

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