Unlocking the puzzles of the brain

Dr. Gabriel de Erausquin recently joined  USF Health from
Harvard to fill the Roskamp Chair of Biological Psychiatry.

      Scientists used to think that the brain, unlike other parts of the body, could not repair itself.

      Now they know better.

      But how that repair works remains mysterious.

      Why does stimulating the brain with electricity reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but not keep the disease from progressing?

      Why do people with schizophrenia develop some of the same physical symptoms as Parkinson’s?

      How do the brain’s efforts to repair certain types of damage somehow go awry, manifesting itself as the symptoms of schizophrenia?

      Those are big questions – and exploring the answers to them is the reason that Gabriel de Erausquin, MD, PhD, MSc, has come to USF Health.

       “There’s a process (in the brain) that tries to compensate for the damage, but it leads in the wrong direction,” Dr. de Erausquin said of the schizophrenia question. “We know that some of it is genetic. But only 50 percent of people (with this type of early brain damage) develop schizophrenia. So in some people, the brain compensates better.”

       Dr. de Erausquin joined USF Health last month to hold the Roskamp Chair of Biological Psychiatry. He is an associate professor of psychiatry, neurology and neurosurgery, as well as director of the Center of Neuromodulation. He also is the new director of the Roskamp Laboratory of Brain Development, Modulation and Research.

       Dr. de Erausquin comes to USF from Harvard Medical School, where he was co-director of the Laboratory of Brain Development, Modulation and Research and clinical director of the Neuromodulation Program at the Institute of Neurosciences, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard. Before that, he was an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Washington University in St. Louis.

       “As we seek to achieve national and international recognition for our research capabilities, the Department is renewing its focus on interdisciplinary work and reaching across traditional discipline boundaries to integrate our research teams and optimize the impact of their efforts,” said Dr. Francisco Fernandez, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurosciences. “With Dr. de Erausquin joining USF, we have positioned ourselves to guarantee such integration, as well as to develop the therapies that will greatly benefit all our patients and their families.”

       Dr. de Erausquin said he’s delighted that USF Health and the support of the Roskamp chair will allow him to pursue research that overlaps into several disciplines.

      “USF offered me the opportunity to integrate my research interests with my clinical interests in a very vertical way,” he said.


        Exploring some of his research interests means asking questions that may not have an immediate answer – a difficulty when grant funding can be more easily awarded to research with a more definitive, even if more incremental, endpoint.

      “These are very high-risk proposals, so it’s very, very hard to get funded,” said Dr. de Erausquin.

       Funds for the Roskamp Chair in Biological Psychiatry were provided by a generous donation from Robert Roskamp, a Longboat Key philanthropist and developer of senior living facilities and specialized homes for emotionally disabled adults. The Warner Lambert Company and Boots Pharmaceuticals, Inc., have provided additional funds to support the Roskamp lab.

        Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine and CEO of USF Health, said Dr. de Erausquin will make USF Health’s strong  neurosciences research program even stronger. He stressed the positive impact that Robert Roskamp’s donation will have.

      “The emergence of USF Health as a leader in translational research in the neurosciences has received another boost with the recruitment of Dr. de Erausquin and his team from Harvard,” Dr. Klasko said. “He is exactly the type of innovative thinker we want at USF, and we are truly excited about the contributions his research will make in creating a  healthier community.  The combination of a visionary donor, an entrepreneurial academic mindset, great departmental leadership, and community support is making USF and Tampa Bay one of the nation’s leaders in the neurosciences.”

      Dr. de Erausquin’s work will have a broad impact, Dr. Fernandez said.

      “With his skill set, we will create a more robust and impactful research endeavor to better meet the needs of individuals in our local and the global communities,” said Dr. Fernandez.


       Dr. de Erausquin received his MD, as well as a PhD in behavioral pharmacology, from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He received his M.Sc. in genetic epidemiology from Washington University in St. Louis. He did his psychiatry residency at Yale University, neurology residency at Washington University, and was a post-doctoral fellow at Georgetown University.

      Dr. de Erausquin has published widely and received grant funding from the NIH and other sources. He also has received several awards, including the 2008 Kleman Award in Clinical Psychiatry Research from NARSAD, an international charity dedicated to mental health research.

-  Story by Lisa Greene, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications