My Research

Research 
Philosophy

My research mission is to harness my expertise as both a neuroscientist and mental illness survivor with lived experience to further elucidate the underlying mechanisms of debilitating psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

My ultimate research goal is to study & develop novel therapeutic targets for these disorders, with a particular interest in the mechanisms of action driving psychedelic & psychoplastogenic compounds. Above all, my hope is to help lessen unnecessary human suffering.

My first-hand, lived experiences of these mental illnesses equip me with unique perspectives & research questions to ultimately derive novel insights through my research pursuits.

To that end, embedded in all of my research endeavors is a deep commitment to mental health advocacy, science communication, and community outreach.

Furthermore, my work as a scientist stands for the active inclusion & representation of fellow mentally ill & disabled scientists in research. Through continued advocacy, allyship, & mentorship, I commit to further destigmatizing + normalizing the experience & disclosure of mental illness + disability survivorship within researchers like myself.

Read About Uma’s Research

The Neurobiology of OCD & Novel Therapeutic Compounds

Principal Investigator: Dr. Michael Cahill, Ph.D
Current Research

I am currently a Neuroscience Ph.D student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Neuroscience Training Program! I’m conducting my thesis research in Dr. Michael Cahill’s lab, studying the underlying mechanisms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) & other cognition-driven neuropsychiatric disorders.

My Ph.D thesis goal, on a high level, is to further understand the pathophysiology of OCD through exploring dendritic spine abnormalities in postmortem brains from OCD patients, and then recapitulate these disease states in animal models to establish behavioral causality. I also strive to develop new behavioral assays to recapitulate the “obsession” aspect of OCD symptomology in animal models. Furthermore, I aim to utilize reverse-translational models to explore subsequent therapeutic targets & novel pharmacological compounds such as psychedelics & psychoplastogens.

The Potential Effects of MDMA-Assisted Therapy for PTSD on Comorbid OCD

Principal Investigator: Uma R. Chatterjee, M.S., MHPS (Independent Project)

This research project was inspired by my lived experience of comorbid OCD & PTSD – particularly the experience of OCD & PTSD treatments working inversely and being contraindicated for the other disorder. This phenomenon led to my curiosity about how comorbid OCD was being considered within the framework of MDMA-Assisted therapy for PTSD, and other psychedelic-assisted therapies for PTSD. This curiosity led to a fully-independent, multidisciplinary research investigation into this question with novel results + conclusions that have gone to inform clinical trials around the world.

I have presented this research project at numerous scientific conferences and research symposia around the world, and have received several accolades for my novel findings, including first place in the global PsychedelX 2022 conference competition and several presentation, research, and travel grant awards. The culmination of this project has resulted in a published abstract by the Society for Neuroscience and an accepted first-author manuscript for publication, currently in preparation with collaborators. Listen to the full story of how I turned my lived experience into a fully independent research project here.

Expand to read the full project abstract

Abstract: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are often comorbid psychiatric disorders within patients. Approximately 40% of patients diagnosed with PTSD are also diagnosed with OCD, which far supersedes the estimated 1% rate of OCD prevalence in the general population. First-line psychotherapies differ for both conditions, where PTSD is generally treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and OCD is treated with exposure & response prevention therapy (ERP). These psychotherapies fundamentally differ in their execution, with traditional CBT being contraindicated for OCD treatment. Especially in cases where patients’ PTSD & OCD diagnoses present a dynamic functional relationship, the treatments for both conditions often result in both parallel and inverse results, such that PTSD treatment can often worsen OCD symptoms, and OCD treatment can also often worsen PTSD symptoms. Furthermore, patients with comorbid PTSD and OCD are shown to experience more severe symptomology of OCD than patients with just OCD.

Thus, when studying the potential of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine Assisted Therapy (MDMA-AT) for PTSD, a notable point of consideration is the potential challenge of comorbid OCD in PTSD patient populations. This project reviews the current literature on the comorbid nature of dynamically-related PTSD & OCD diagnoses, current challenges in the psychological and pharmacological treatments of comorbid PTSD & OCD, and the potential pharmacological mechanisms of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine that impact PTSD & OCD as individual and comorbid conditions. This project also evaluates the current paradigm of MDMA-AT for PTSD as it relates to comorbid OCD and assesses its potentially contraindicative effects. Additionally, this project provides several directions for further investigations into this topic across a wide range of relevant disciplines.

Watch Uma’s main-stage research presentation at Breaking Convention 2023 in Exeter, UK
Watch Uma’s 1st place winning research talk at the PsychedelX 2022 conference

OCD & The Brain: The OCD Neurobiology Toolkit

Principal investigator: Dr. Tobias Hauser, Ph.D

OCD and The Brain is an inter-disciplinary engagement project that aims to co-produce an engaging and interactive online toolkit for young people living with OCD and their parents to learn more about the brain and OCD. The purpose of the project is to overcome the disconnect between what the latest OCD research is focusing on, and the needs and focus of the OCD community.

This toolkit focuses on the aspects that were within our scope and remit, which includes exploring current scientific understanding about OCD and the brain, research techniques used to explore OCD and the brain, and information about evidence-based treatments and how they might work in the brain.

On this project, I served as a scientific contributor and a community gatekeeper. I harnessed both of my identities as an OCD patient and neuroscientist to shape the project, provide accessible research information, co-produce the toolkit, and bridge conversations between the research team and lived experience communities.

The project is being delivered by The Department of Imaging Neuroscience, in partnership with OCD Action and International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), and people with lived experience of OCD. The project has been funded by Wellcome through a Wellcome Enrichment – Public Engagement Grant.

OCD & The Brain – Main Animation

The Hemispheric Lateralization of the Central Amygdala in Chronic Bladder Pain

Principal Investigator: Dr. Benedict J. Kolber, Ph.D
Postdoctoral Mentor: Dr. Lakeisha Lewter, Ph.D

As a neuroscience master’s student, I joined Dr. Benedict Kolber’s Lab in the UT Dallas Department of Neuroscience’s Center for Advanced Pain Studies. I primarily studied the systems-, cellular-, and molecular-level properties of the central amygdala (CeA)’s hemispheric lateralization, and its subsequent role in modulating chronic bladder pain and comorbid psychiatric conditions.

Read through the numerous research projects I conducted and contributed to within the lab:
Project 1

Investigating the role of hemispheric lateralization in PACAP (pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide) release within the parabrachial nucleus (PBn) to the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) circuit, and its subsequent lateralized functions in interstitial cystitis (visceral/chronic bladder pain) and comorbid psychiatric & stress-related conditions. Utilizes: in vivo optogenetics, behavioral assays, in vivo pharmacological administration, viral vectors, stereotaxic surgery, noxious visceromotor response, immunohistochemistry, and in situ hybridization.

Project 2

Investigating the progression of cyclophosphamide-induced interstitial cystitis (chronic bladder pain) across various time points/days post-injury, and its subsequent effects across various related domains, including: physiological measures of noxious visceromotor responses, histological analysis of bladder, behavioral assays, slice electrophysiology, CeA CGRP receptor activity (in situ hybridization), and CeA CGRP neuropeptide release (immunohistochemistry).

Project 3

Quantifying cells in the central amygdala containing PKC Delta, Somatostatin, CGRP, & PACAP to create a 3D agent-based computational model to simulate the virtual brain to understand pain-induced behavior.

Project 4

Piloting a protocol for the urinary bladder distention visceromotor response (UBD VMR) physiological assay in male mice through the novel development and troubleshooting of male catheterization & electrode implantation.

Identifying with Symptoms in COVID-19

Principal Investigators: Dr. Gayle Schwark, Ph.D & Dr. Meredith G. Grant, Ph.D

Abstract: This study examined the effects of using primers that normalize and contextualize depressive symptoms within the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic on subsequent rates of reporting experiencing depressive symptoms, relative to responses to questions lacking such primers. Data, collected through surveys using a within-subjects design where all participants were exposed to both conditions, was used from 126 participants from the University of Texas at Dallas. Results showed that when responding to questions using primed language that included prompts normalizing and contextualizing depressive symptoms within the COVID-19 pandemic (experimental group), participants reported experiencing depressive symptoms at a similar rate to when participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms that lacked such prompts (control group). Ultimately, there were no notable differences between the two groups. Theoretical and practical implications were discussed.

Awards, Publications, & Presentations

Awards & Honors
  • T32 Institutional National Research Service Award Fellowship: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Predoctoral Training Program in the Neurosciences – National Institutes of Health | August 2023
  • Source Research Foundation Community Grant Award: Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network | July 2023
  • Source Research Foundation Travel Grant Award: Breaking Convention presentation | April 2023
  • Larry Cauller Research Travel Award: Society for Neuroscience 2022 Conference | November 2022
  • Horizons PBC Conference Scholarship Award: Horizons – Perspectives on Psychedelic Conference | October 2022
  • Outstanding Conference Presentation Award: Psychedemia Conference poster presentation | August 2022
  • Source Research Foundation Travel Grant Award: Psychedemia Conference presentation | August 2022
  • PsychedelX 2022 Conference Overall Winner: 1st place overall winner; Natural Science presenter | June 2022
  • PsychedelX 2022 Conference Natural Sciences Winner: 1st place winner of Natural Science division | June 2022
  • Copeland Center WRAP Training Scholarship: Wellness Recovery Action Plan Facilitator Training – full scholarship | June 2022
  • International OCD Foundation Scholarship: Annual OCD Conference poster presentation | May 2022
  • UTD BBS Dean’s List: Fall 2020
  • Berklee College of Music Dean’s List: Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018
  • Berklee College of Music Dean’s List: Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018
  • Winner of the National Harlan Institute Supreme Court Competition: Spring 2014
    – Awarded by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Citi College Scholarship Award: Spring 2014
  • National Merit Commended Scholar: Spring 2014
Research Oral Presentations & Talks
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Rodriguez, C.I., Pittenger, C., Hokanson, J., & Ching, T. Psychedelics & OCD: Discussing the current state of psychedelic research as potential OCD treatments. Panel presentation at the International OCD Foundation’s Annual OCD Conference 2024; 2024 July 27; Orlando, Florida.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. OCD and the Brain: A digital hub to globally disseminate accessible OCD neuroscience information. Oral presentation at the International OCD Foundation’s Research Symposium 2024; 2024 July 25; Orlando, Florida.
  • Chatterjee, U. R., Thomas, J., Wallbank, L., Gordon, C., Cogen, S., Lindley, L., Tadross, M., King, K., Vincenty, K., & Hauser T. U. Launching OCD & The Brain: Bridging the gap between research and lived experience through a co-produced digital hub to disseminate accessible OCD neurobiology information. Panel presentation for the University College London Department of Imaging Neuroscience, International OCD Foundation, & OCD UK. 2024 January 27; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Rodriguez, C.I., Pittenger, C., Hokanson, J., & Ching, T. Psychedelics & OCD: Discussing the current state of psychedelic research as potential OCD treatments. Panel presentation at the International OCD Foundation’s Annual OCD Conference 2023; 2023 July 8; San Francisco, California.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Acero, V.P., Sielaff, A., Domenico, C.M., & Storck, C.J. So, You Want To Be A Psychedelic Professional? Oral panel presentation at Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ Psychedelic Science 2023 conference; 2023 June 23; Denver, Colorado.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Smith, E., Price, D., Donahue, L., Collins, A. Biohaven: Phase 3 OCD Trorulizole Clinical Trial Updates. Oral presentation at the American Society for Clinical Psychopharmacology’s ASCP 2023 conference; 2023 May 31; Miami, Florida.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. MDMA-Assisted Therapy, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review assessing the potential effects of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Oral presentation at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Neuroscience Research Seminar; Department of Neuroscience, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; 2023 May 4; Richardson, Texas.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. Psychedelics, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: Considering the implications of comorbid OCD in the psychedelic-assisted treatments of PTSD. Oral presentation at Breaking Convention; 2023 April 21; Exeter, England.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. Psychedelics & Cancer: Exploring the Research for Potential Mental Health Treatment. Oral presentation at Stupid Cancer’s Digital CancerCon 2023 conference; April 16-30; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U. R., Fasteau, M., Fullerton, G. Real OCD: The conceptualization, diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorder | Presented by OCD Texas. University of Texas at Dallas’ Psychology Seminar Series; Department of Psychology, School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences; 2023 April 11; Richardson, Texas.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA & OCD: Exploring the potential effects of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Oral presentation – Natural Science division of PsychedelX 2022 Conference; 2022 June 7; Virtual.
    – Award: 1st Place Winner of overall competition
    – Award: 1st Place Winner of natural sciences division
Publications & Abstracts
Poster Presentations
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress’ 17th Annual Amygdala, Stress, & PTSD Virtual Conference; 2024 April 23; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Neuroscience Training Program’s Neuroscience Research Symposium; 2023 Sept. 27; Madison, Wisconsin.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the International OCD Foundation 2023 Annual OCD Conference; Researcher Meet & Greet; 2023 July 8; San Francisco, California.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the International OCD Foundation 2023 Research Symposium; 2023 July 6; San Francisco, California.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies’ Psychedelic Science 2023 Conference; 2023 June 23; Denver, Colorado.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at University of Texas at Dallas’ Supporting Outstanding Academic Research (SOAR) Research Symposium; 2023 March 31; Richardson, Texas.
  • Anandan, I., Hong, V., Allen, H., Chatterjee, U. R., Kolber, B. J. Creating a virtual model of pain-induced behavior: Quantifying cells in the central amygdala that have PKC Delta, Somatostatin, and CGRP. Poster presentation at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Supporting Outstanding Academic Research (SOAR) Research Symposium; 2023 March 31; Richardson, Texas.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA & OCD: A systematic review of the potential effects of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at Society for Neuroscience’s Neuroscience 2022 conference; 2022 November 13; San Diego, California.
    – Award: Larry Cauller Research Travel Award
  • Chatterjee, U. R. The OCD Brain: Leveraging OCD neurobiology education to raise awareness, deconstruct stigma, empower advocacy, & foster community. Poster presentation at Society for Neuroscience’s Neuroscience 2022 conference; Brain Awareness Campaign Event; 2022 November 12; San Diego, California.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA-AT, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: Exploring the potential effects of MDMA-assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research & Education’s Psychedemia 2022 Conference Research Symposium; 2022 August 12; Columbus, Ohio.

    – Award: Outstanding Conference Presentation
    – Award: Source Research Foundation Travel Grant
  • Anandan, I., Hong, V., Allen, H., Chatterjee, U. R., Kolber, B. J. Creating a virtual model of pain-induced behavior: Quantifying cells in the central amygdala that have PKC Delta, Somatostatin, and CGRP. Poster presentation at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Summer Platform for Undergraduate Research Symposium 2022; 2022 July 29; Richardson, Texas.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: Exploring the potential effects of 3,4-Methyledioxymethamphetamine assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation’s Annual OCD Conference Researcher & Exhibitor Meet & Greet; 2022 July 9; Denver, Colorado.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. MDMA, PTSD, & Comorbid OCD: Exploring the potential effects of 3,4-Methyledioxymethamphetamine assisted therapy for PTSD on comorbid OCD. Poster presentation at International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation’s Annual OCD Conference Research Symposium; 2022 July 7; Denver, Colorado.
  • Chatterjee, U. R. Hammet, S., Nichols, R., Schwark, G. Identifying with Depressive Symptoms in COVID-19. Poster presentation at the University of Texas at Dallas School of Brain & Behavioral Science’s Psychology Undergraduate Research Symposium; 2021 May 3; Virtual.
URM Mentorship & Professional Development Presentations
  • Chatterjee, U. R., Paparella, A., Mahrer, C. Professional Development Panel: Lesson From Disabled Scientists. Panel presentation at the American Society of Microbiology’s 2023 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS); 2023 November 17; Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Storck, C.J., Sanku, G., Domenico, C.M., & Collins, C. So, You Want To Join The Psychedelic Field? Oral panel presentation at Microdose HQ’s Wonderland Miami 2023 Conference; 2023 November 11; Miami, Florida.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. & Domenico, C. M. Personal Statement Workshop. Oral presentation at the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network’s Professional Development Seminar; 2023 November 7; Virtual.
  • Rein, B. & Chatterjee, U.R. A Conversation with Dr. Ben Rein: On psychedelic research, the neuroscience of empathy, & science communication – hosted by Uma R. Chatterjee, M.S., MHPS. Keynote address at the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network’s PsychedelX 2023 Conference; 2023 July 20; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. & Acero, V.P. Professional Development and Networking Seminar: PsychedelX & Beyond. Oral presentation at the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network’s PsychedelX Professional Development Seminar; 2023 July 2; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Acero, V.P., Sielaff, A., Storck, C. J., & Smith, C. Psychedelic Pathways: Navigating Mentorship in Sciences and Humanities. Oral panel presentation at the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network’s IPN Labs Professional Development Seminar; 2023 June 1; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Brinkman, M., Temizer, R., Stricker, K.C., Lancelotta, R., & Lopez, J. Pursuing A Career in Psychedelics: The Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network & Source Research Foundation. Oral panel presentation at the Columbia University School of Social Work; Teachers College Interdisciplinary Psychedelic Society; 2023 April 16; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. & Rein, B. Uma R. Chatterjee, MHPS: A non-traditional path to neuroscience, advocacy, and psychedelic research. Oral presentation at the Aspiring Scientists Coalition’s monthly seminar; 2023 April 13; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R. Disability Justice in Higher Education: Mental Illness in Graduate School. Oral presentation at the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students’ conference on Teaching to Transform: Empowering Students to Succeed through Ownership and Advocacy; 2023 February 23; Virtual.
  • Chatterjee, U.R., Domenico, C.M., Dourron, H.M., Jaster, A., Zahid, Z., & Cribas. E. Psychedelic Graduate Research: Biomedical Sciences. Oral presentation at the Intercollegiate Psychedelics Network’s 2022 Psychedelic Graduate Research Symposium; 2022 November 3; Virtual.