Meet new Robarts scientist Dr. Lena Palaniyappan

Dr. Lena Palaniyappan recently joined the Departments of Psychiatry and Medical Biophysics as an associate professor. He is also part of the Neuroscience program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and is setting up his lab at Robarts.

Dr. Palaniyappan’s research aims to better understand the mechanisms behind symptoms in mental illness and bring neuroimaging methods to everyday clinical use. We spoke to him about his current projects and what he's looking forward to as a faculty member and scientist.

Why did you decide to become a scientist?
Training as a psychiatrist, I was struck by how little we know about the human brain and the mental phenomenon that is produced by it. This led me to conversations with some eminent scholars in neuroscience, psychology and mental health, who inspired me further into the study of the brain. At some point, I became convinced that I could make a career out of asking questions.

What are your current research interests?
My interest lies in bringing neuroscience to everyday clinical use in mental health. To this end, I employ neuroimaging, neuropsychology and pharmacology as tools to study how complex symptoms, such as hallucinations and depression, are created by the human brain’s component networks.
 
What do you hope your research will mean for people's health in the future?
One in five of us will experience a mental illness in our lifetime. Despite this high frequency, our understanding of these illnesses continue to be minimal. I hope that in the not-so-distant future, we will be able to routinely use information from brain anatomy and physiology in mental health clinics. These measures could guide patients and clinicians in making treatment decisions, which at present, are made mostly on the basis of clinical intuition.

What are you most looking forward to as you begin at Robarts?
I am excited by the world class imaging facility at Robarts, and the focus on both discovery and application of these tools. I look forward to learning a lot from the Robarts community in the next few years, and exploring how these advances can inform our current understanding of the mechanisms behind symptom formation in mental disorders.
 
When you aren't working, what might we find you doing?
I am blessed to have two boys. Most of my leisure time is spent with them and my lovely wife, who is also a psychiatrist. I follow cricket (no matter who plays whom), indulge in Tamil literature and love Bill Bryson-type laugh-out-loud travelogues!

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I would love to find something that truly modifies the course of long-term mental illnesses – especially schizophrenia.

Learn more about Dr. Palaniyappan's clinical work through the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychoses (PEPP) at London Health Sciences Centre.