Research Programs

Departmental Faculty Research Interests

Petros Levounis, M.D.:
Interest: Psychotherapy, addiction, psychiatry teaching, gay and lesbian mental health
Dr. Levounis is a Professor of Psychiatry and his area of expertise are psychotherapy and psychopharmacology of addiction and co-occurring psychiatric disorders, teaching in psychiatry, gay and lesbian mental health, and behavioral addictions.

Cheryl Kennedy, M.D.
Interest: Inpatient psychiatric care, psychosomatic medicine, interdisciplinary education and research
Dr. Kennedy is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry. She is interested in patient satisfaction with inpatient psychiatric care, predictors of length of stay and re-admission to inpatient psychiatric unit, tracking crisis response team at UH, survey of physician-assisted suicide, quality of life among caregivers and patients with Huntington’s Disease, interdisciplinary education and research, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, substance use disorders, and psychosomatic medicine.

Steven Schleifer, M.D.:
Interest: Clinical research, pharmacotherapy, psychoneuroimmunology
Dr. Schleifer is involved in various research projects at Greystone Park Psychiatry Hospital and at University Hospital. Dr. Schleifer would be happy to accommodate interested students in his projects. The role of the student would depend upon his/her interests, skill set (e.g., re’ statistics, possible patient interactions), time availability and the status of the various projects. In some cases, a student can develop his/her own mini-project as a sub-project of existing protocols (as several have done in the past). Interested students should feel free to get in touch with Dr. Schleifer ( to discuss possibilities. List of Dr. Schleifer's project can be found here.

Rashi Aggarwal, M.D.
Interest: Empathy and wellness, stigma and discrimination, international medical graduate education, training and adjustment
Dr. Aggarwal is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry. Her recent work focuses on empathy and wellness amongst trainees, stigma and discrimination against psychiatric patients, quality of life among residents, adjustment issues among international medical graduates, graduate and postgraduate education.

Ozlem Gunal, M.D., P.h.D.
Interest: Neurobiological basis of psychiatric disorders
Dr. Gunal is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry. Her research focus is to understand the changes in synaptic function and plasticity in rodent models of neuropsychiatric disorders, identify the deficits in pathways, target proteins, which may contribute to the pathophysiology of these disorders, mainly autism and related disorders, and then to attempt interventions in the model systems. Visit Dr. Gunal's website here.

Douglas Opler, M.D.
Interest: Psychosomatic medicine and CL psychiatry, psychopharmacology

Ye-Ming Sun, M.D.
Interest: brain stimulation modalities (ECT, TMS, DBS, tDC), sleep disorders, neurobiology of advanced brain functions
Dr. Sun is interested in research project(s) with Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT). Dr. Sun would like to experiment his hypothesis that ECT overstimulates glutamate receptor in the brain and causes memory disturbance. In this study, Dr. Sun will test the cognitive function disturbance in ECT patients with and without pretreated with memantine – an NMDA receptor antagonist. The study will divided into two stages: first stage – a limited open label study; second stage – double blind clinical trial (will apply for NIH or other resources funding) if positive results would be obtained from the first stage. Dr. Sun is looking for a trainee who has some background in neurosciences and will dedicate in scientific research (not necessary full time). The person will involve in proposal writing (IRB application), evaluation of patient with him, obtaining consents, carrying out cognitive function testing, data collection and analysis, and paper writing. If this project will extent to stage 2, the trainee would have the chance to write NIH grant. Interested students should feel free to get in touch with Dr. Sun ( to discuss possibilities.

Erin Zerbo, M.D.
Interest: Substance use disorders, personality disorders
Dr. Zerbo’s primary interest has always been the treatment of addiction in the context of public psychiatry. She is especially interested in the pharmacotherapy of substance use disorders among underserved populations, and in addressing systemic barriers to integrated and continuous care.

Active Projects

Resident wellness study: An intervention to decrease burnout and increase resiliency and happiness (Principal Investigator: Rashi Aggarwal, M.D.)

Depression prevalence, diagnosis, treatment and stigma in the outpatient oncology population (Principal Investigator: Rashi Aggarwal, M.D.)

Resident attitudes regarding wellness (Principal Investigator: Rashi Aggarwal, M.D.)

Developmentally sensitive regulatory mechanisms of synapse assembly and function
(Principal Investigator: Ozlem Gunal, M.D., Ph.D.)
IRB/IACUC approval: IACUC, expiration date April 12, 2018

Understanding the extracellular matrix regulation in cognitive profile of Neurofibromatosis 1 as a therapeutic tool
(Principal Investigator: Ozlem Gunal)

IRB/IACUC approval: IACUC, April 12, 2018