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With studies underway and upcoming, the clinical trials division is on the move

The emerging division is growing into a point of pride for the department.

With active studies underway and others on the not-too-distant horizon, the clinical trials division in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is evolving into a point of pride for the department.

Awareness around the importance of mental health well-being is at an all-time high, and researchers in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Kansas Medical Center are ramping up the clinical trials research division dedicated to finding novel treatments for a variety of clinical indications.

With active studies underway and others on the not-too-distant horizon, the division is evolving into a point of pride for the department.

“We want people to know that when they come to KU, they’ll receive access to state-of-the-art clinical trials that aren’t typically available elsewhere in the community,” said Philip Leese, M.D., assistant research professor and interim director of the clinical trials division.

Current clinical trials

The department’s expanded focus on clinical research emerged in November 2018 when Dennis Owens, M.D., Ph.D., joined the department. Owens, who at the time of his death in March 2021 was an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, had brought with him a portfolio of clinical trials and continued to attract new research opportunities.

Now under the direction of Leese, the division is once again gaining traction with four studies currently active and recruiting, including three drug trials and one device study led by faculty experts. The clinical trials include the study of:

  • Adolescent schizophrenia, led by Sharon Cain, M.D.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder in adults, led by Shilpa Sachdeva, M.D.
  • Abnormally increased appetite in Prader-Willi Syndrome (a rare genetic disease that causes multiple physical, developmental, and behavioral issues, including a constant sense of hunger), led by Ann Genovese, M.D.
  • An implantable device on the left cervical vagus nerve for treatment-resistant depression, led by Tyler Kjorvestad, M.D.

Where possible, each of the trial’s study teams is making a point of incorporating faculty experts from across the department and university. The division-wide effort aligns to one of the university’s missions to have more interdepartmental, multidisciplinary collaboration. Also of import, it strengthens the research teams, enhances the experience for study participants, and opens the door for more research opportunities for department faculty and trainees.

Meanwhile, an indispensable supporting cast, including Christa Wessel, clinical research coordinator, and Silvana Botero, regulatory coordinator, is helping to fuel the division’s success.

“Our vision is to continue to expand our team of lead investigators and sub-investigators to include colleagues from a variety of disciplines such as psychiatry, psychology, psychopharmacology and clinical genetics,” Leese said. “As we build the division, this combination of expertise will become a strength for us, while benefitting our faculty, trainees and research participants.”

Looking ahead, other trials in the works include autism spectrum disorder, alcohol use disorder, and a new novel oral treatment for postpartum depression.

Leveling up

As the division hits its stride, its sights are set on becoming one of the region’s most influential research divisions, featuring faculty who are key opinion leaders in a wide variety of specialties and subspecialties in mental and behavioral health.

“We’re putting processes and procedures in place that will put us on par with any regional research facility,” said Leese, who believes the division also must continue to spread the word to sponsors and potential research participants about KU’s strengths: excellent clinical researchers and the state-of-the-art research facilities.

“In the future, we want clinical trial sponsors to come to us because of the expertise of our faculty and staff, and because we deliver a quality experience second to none,” he said. “We want to help support our department in becoming a center of excellence in clinical trials research.”

For more information about the division’s clinical trials, visit the current projects page on the department’s website. Faculty and staff also are encouraged to make referrals to active studies by contacting Christa Wessel at or 913-574-0302.

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

University of Kansas Medical Center
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Mailstop 4015
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-6400
Fax: 913-588-6414