Lindner Center of HOPE Associate Chief Research Officer Named Business Courier Health Care Hero Innovator Finalist
Cincinnati, OH, February 17, 2023 – Lindner Center of HOPE, Associate Chief Research Officer and Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine Francisco Romo-Nava, MD, PhD was named a finalist in the annual Business Courier Health Care Heroes awards in the Innovator category on February 16, 2023.
Dr. Romo-Nava serves a key leadership role in driving the efforts of The Research Institute at Lindner Center of HOPE. Not only does he manage studies sponsored by third parties, but he himself has initiated first-of-its-kind research that can significantly impact the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses.
Dr. Romo-Nava’s incredibly original ideas about the brain-body relationship and its role in mental illness is directing his research beyond just treatment to a real understanding of the path of physiology of mental illness.
He was awarded a K2 Career Development Award by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for the study of a novel approach to investigate the circadian system function and its potential as a therapeutic target in binge eating disorder. This is a highly competitive award for clinician-scientists that is part of enabling the “Neuroscience of the Body Research Program” to study the role of the brain-body communication in psychiatric disorders.
Dr. Romo-Nava’s interest in the mind-body connection – the communication between the brain and the body – has also led him to explore whether altering that communication might lead to better treatment options for patients with psychiatric disorders.
He calls his research “neuroscience of the body in psychiatric disorders,” and it led the researcher to start a study, being conducted at the Lindner Center of HOPE, to examine if electrical stimulation of the spinal cord could be helpful in treating certain psychiatric conditions, like depression.
His work on this study has earned him a United States patent and could eventually lead to easier treatment options with fewer side effects for certain patients.
Dr. Romo-Nava says this patent supports the study of a method to stimulate the brain-body communication pathways in the spinal cord by using investigational devices “no larger than a shoe box with cables and rubber electrodes.”
The brain and spinal cord are components of the central nervous system, and there are neural pathways, or tracts, that connect both. These pathways are made up of nervous tissue, including neurons and other cells, and can send information from the body to the brain or from the brain to the body.
“We think that a relatively small electrical current applied through the skin, which can barely be felt by the patient and will not hurt them, will moderate the brain-body communication neural pathways in the spinal cord and will impact certain regions of the brain,” Romo-Nava says, adding they are in the beginning stages of studying this method and are trying to determine how often and long the stimulation sessions should occur.
Romo-Nava says he thinks of the interaction between the brain and the body as a self-regulating feedback circuit that is often disturbed in psychiatric disorders.
“If we can fix that disturbance, we may be able to improve both the mental and physical health of patients,” he says, adding that the initial pilot study was funded by a Brain & Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Grant. The foundation awards grants of the National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression.
Romo-Nava says, “One of our ultimate goals is to test this out in larger clinical trials to determine the role of brain-body communication in the study of mental disorders, as well as to explore its potential as a useful therapy.”
“These are the first steps in examining this method and could be the initial steps in potentially developing a better treatment for certain patients with depression, avoiding side effects from medications and improving their overall quality of life.”
As a clinical researcher, Dr. Romo-Nava dedicates his talent and energy to the pursuit of discovering new treatment options for patients struggling with mental illnesses. He is an advocate for seeking ongoing evolution and innovation in the treatment of mental health conditions. He exudes the notion that our investment in our patients – and hope – begins with an investment in research. He is a critical leader in actively pioneering life-changing mental health research, giving rise to new and better methods to prevent, diagnose and treat mental illnesses.
The word “pioneer” accurately defines Dr. Romo-Nava, as he leads the charge in embracing the idea that there are new ways to consider the treatment of mental illnesses, we just have to imagine the possibilities.
Dr. Romo-Nava enthusiastically embraces innovation in his exploration of the causes of mental illness. His research into the application of brain-body communication in the treatment of mental illness is first of its kind and is truly innovative in the mental health arena. The use of this innovation, right here in our region, can help change the lives of those facing mental illness-thus improving the overall health and wellbeing of our community.
Dr. Romo-Nava is an outside the box thinker when it involves treatment options for patients. He understands the important role innovation plays in offering treatment alternatives to those who haven’t had great success with medications and psychotherapy.
Beyond the pursuit of new treatment options, Dr. Romo-Nava is relentless in his quest to understand the basic path of physiology of mental illness. Figuring out and understanding the mechanics of mental illness will open the doors to new treatments. He is persistent in his quest to solve this puzzle and his novel thinking will take research in directions never imagined.
Heath Care Heroes is the Business Courier’s recognition of those who have made an impact on health care in our community through their concern for patients, their research and inventions, their management skills, their innovative programs for employees and their services.
Lindner Center of HOPE in Mason is a comprehensive mental health center providing excellent, patient-centered, scientifically-advanced care for individuals suffering with mental illness. A state-of-the-science, mental health center and charter member of the National Network of Depression Centers, the Center provides psychiatric hospitalization and partial hospitalization for individuals age 12-years-old and older, outpatient services for all ages, diagnostic and short-term residential services for adults and adolescents, outpatient services and research. The Center is enhanced by its partnership with UC Health as its clinicians are ranked among the best providers locally, nationally and internationally. Together Lindner Center of HOPE and UC Health offer a true system of mental health care in the Greater Cincinnati area and across the country. The Center is also affiliated with the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine.