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September 8, 2022

VA Researchers Named 2022 Middleton Awardees

VA researchers Dr. Amy C. Justice and Dr. Judith M. Ford have been named the 2022 Middleton Awardees. The William S. Middleton Award is the highest honor conferred by the VA Biomedical Laboratory Research and Development service, recognizing outstanding achievement in biomedical research.

"Dr. Justice and Dr. Ford have demonstrated an exemplary record of service to VA and the biomedical profession. Their expertise, dedication, and involvement has allowed them to make seminal contributions to the fields of clinical epidemiology and psychiatry, and to promote a better quality of life for Veterans and others affected by HIV and mental illness," said VA Chief Research and Development Officer Dr. Rachel Ramoni.

Clinical epidemiology

 Dr. Amy C. Justice

Dr. Amy C. Justice

Justice is a staff physician with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven and C.N.H. Long Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the Yale School of Medicine. She is known for developing large data cohorts by integrating information culled from VA's electronic health record, the National Death Index, CMS data, patient surveys, and biorepositories. With 20 years of experience, Justice is considered an expert in the standardization of electronic patient data using statistical analysis, machine learning, and cross-cohort validations.

One of Justice's best-known projects is the Veterans Aging Cohort Study. VACS is an ongoing, longitudinal study of more than 170,000 U.S. Veterans with and without HIV infection. Continuously funded since 1996, the study aims to better understand the role of comorbid medical and psychiatric disease in Veterans with HIV. The team uses that knowledge to design clinical trials to improve patient outcomes for this group of Veterans.

"Dr. Justice's research career is a shining example of a dedicated scientist who has created an innovative framework to better understand comorbid conditions, effects of aging, and drug toxicity among Veterans living with HIV," said Ramoni.

Auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia

Dr. Judith M. Ford

Dr. Judith M. Ford

Ford is a research career scientist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and codirects the Brain Imaging and Electroencephalography (EEG) Laboratory at the University of California in San Francisco. She was the former director of the Schizophrenia Biological Research Center at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in West Haven.

Ford is recognized for her translational research in psychiatry, which has transformed the understanding of psychotic illnesses in Veterans. She is credited with explaining the basic neural mechanism that enables animals to distinguish between "self-generated" and "other-generated" sensations. This finding facilitated groundbreaking research that found people with schizophrenia demonstrate altered responses to self-generated sensations like sound and speech, due to an inability to predict these sensations. Sensations that are not predicted may be attributed to external sources. In this way, thoughts may become audible. Her work has reassured patients and their families that their symptoms have a neuro-biological basis.

"Dr. Ford's research has provided fundamental insights into the pathophysiology of schizophrenia-spectrum disorders. She is a visionary scientist whose discoveries have assisted Veterans and others diagnosed with mental health disorders," said Ramoni.

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