Clinical Research Unit

The Clinical Research Unit (CRU) conducts clinical investigations that integrate clinical, neurobiological, and technological methodologies with the ultimate goal of improving the personalized diagnosis and treatment of Veterans with trauma-related conditions. CRU scientists have expertise in:

  • Psychotherapy, cognitive rehabilitation, and complementary and alternative interventions
  • Neuropsychological assessment
  • Structural and functional neuroimaging techniques
  • Comorbidities related to trauma (e.g., substance use, pain, sleep disturbance, and obesity) and postconcussive symptomatology (e.g., headaches, imbalance, tinnitus, cognitive difficulties)
  • Functional outcomes related to trauma (e.g., work/school performance, social functioning, and community integration)

The research goals of the CRU are:

  • To develop and evaluate interventions for trauma-related conditions and to provide evidence to support systematic and effective implementation in the VA healthcare system
  • To elucidate cognitive, brain, and behavioral sequelae of trauma by
    • Employing innovative methodologies, including twin research designs, to conduct phenotyping studies of risk factors and correlates of trauma-related conditions and symptoms in support of understanding of the nature and course of trauma-related disorders
    • Examining the genetic, epigenetic, cognitive, behavioral, and environmental mechanisms underlying trauma-related conditions, comorbidities, and associated functional outcomes
    • Working collaboratively to elucidate corresponding neurobiological processes
  • To foster novel discoveries about the mechanisms and markers of treatment response
    • To work collaboratively to understand and quantify the neurobiological and psychophysiological components of these processes
  • Elizabeth W. Twamley, Ph.D., Director, Clinical Research Unit

    Elizabeth W. Twamley, Ph.D., Director, Clinical Research Unit

    Dr. Twamley oversees a group of about 12 investigators and staff who are primarily performing clinical research within CESAMH. She is particularly interested in the links between cognition and everyday functioning as well as community-based interventions that help people reach their highest potential social and occupational functioning. She has developed compensatory cognitive training programs for individuals with traumatic brain injury, severe mental illness, and mild cognitive impairment. Dr. Twamley’s research within CESAMH focuses on bridging neuropsychology and interventions such as compensatory cognitive training and supported employment for veterans with cognitive and psychiatric symptoms. She is also interested in cognitive impairment and disability in homeless individuals as well as the use of technology to improve cognition.

  • Amy J. Jak, Ph.D., Associate Director, Clinical Research Unit

    Amy J. Jak, Ph.D., Associate Director, Clinical Research Unit

    Dr. Jak’s work within CESAMH is primarily focused on cognitive rehabilitation and assessment of Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

  • Niloofar Afari, Ph.D.

    Niloofar Afari, Ph.D.

    Dr. Afari spearheads the CESAMH clinical data repository and facilitates communication and collaboration within and outside CESAMH, including the VA San Diego Healthcare System and VISN 22. Additionally, she has led the CESAMH eScreening effort that has established standardized and consistent assessment of Veterans through a tablet-based electronic screening system.

  • Jill Bormann, Ph.D., RN, FAAN

    Jill Bormann, Ph.D., RN, FAAN

    Dr. Bormann conducts federally funded research on the health-related benefits of the Mantram Repetition Program (MRP)—a meditation-based intervention that teaches a set of portable, spiritually-based practices. She collaborates with other CESAMH scientists to explore bio-marker and brain image changes that may result after the MRP intervention. Her research has contributed to the development of MRP as a viable, non-pharmacological option for treatment and she has fostered the promotion of complementary and integrative therapies into the Veterans Healthcare System.

  • Peter Colvonen, Ph.D.

    Peter Colvonen, Ph.D.

    Dr. Colvonen conducts clinical research aimed at optimizing treatments for Veterans with PTSD by increasing treatment efficacy, decreasing attrition, focusing on client centered treatment of complaints beyond PTSD symptomology, broadening treatments to include co-occurring disorders, and understanding the mechanisms through which change is occurring. Specifically, he is interested in the relationship between PTSD, sleep, and Substance use.

  • Lisa Delano-Wood, Ph.D.

    Lisa Delano-Wood, Ph.D.

    Dr. Delano-Wood uses novel, innovative neuroimaging methods such as diffusion tensor imaging to better understand neuropsychological disorders of late life and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her research focuses on understanding the relationship between cognitive functioning, vascular risk, and brain changes across the aging spectrum, as well as understanding the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) on brain structure, cognition, and clinical outcome.

  • Katrina Maluf, Ph.D., PT

    Katrina Maluf, Ph.D., PT

    Dr. Maluf conducts clinical and neurophysiological research to better understand the effects of psychological stress and physical activity on pain sensitivity, and their role in the development and treatment of chronic pain in veterans.

  • Sonya B. Norman, Ph.D.

    Sonya B. Norman, Ph.D.

    Dr. Norman’s research focuses on understanding PTSD and co-occurring problems. She studies psychotherapies that treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and common co-occurring problems such as substance use disorders, treatments for PTSD and post-deployment mental health problems in recently deployed Veterans, as well as interventions to reduce trauma-related guilt. Dr. Norman has grants funded by VA, DoD, and NIH. She has over 80 peer reviewed publications.

  • Henry J. Orff, Ph.D.

    Henry J. Orff, Ph.D.

    Dr. Orff’s work within CESAMH focuses on investigating the effects of sleep disturbance on neuropsychiatric and neurocognitive outcomes in Veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

  • Barton W. Palmer, Ph.D.

    Barton W. Palmer, Ph.D.

    Dr. Palmer is pursuing investigations of accelerated aging in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as investigations of the potential use of social media in clinical trials for PTSD and other disorders.

  • Dawn M. Schiehser, Ph.D.

    Dawn M. Schiehser, Ph.D.

    Dr. Schiehser co-directs a traumatic brain injury (TBI) neuropsychological and neuroimaging lab at VASDHS where she investigates the neurofunctional correlates of post-concussive symptoms (e.g., fatigue, cognitive impairment) in Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI). She collaborates with other CESAMH investigators in researching neuroimaging and sleep in Veterans with TBI as well as treatments for Veterans with post-traumatic headache.