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Lenze named head of Department of Psychiatry

Noted for expertise treating depression, anxiety and cognitive issues in older adults

by Jim DrydenMay 9, 2022

Gara Elizabeth

Eric J. Lenze, MD, a leader in the treatment of psychiatric disorders in older adults and in devising innovative clinical trials to answer pressing public health problems, has been named the head of the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He will begin his new role Aug. 1.

Lenze is the Wallace and Lucille Renard Professor of Psychiatry, director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry and director of the Mobile Health Research Core in the Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences. He also directs the university’s Healthy Mind Lab, which under his leadership has grown into one of the top treatment-focused laboratories in the country and has received more than $60 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as from various philanthropic foundations.

He was selected to become the psychiatry department’s new head from a pool of distinguished candidates.

“I am delighted that Eric Lenze will be the next head of the Department of Psychiatry, taking over the reins at a time when our society is dealing with a tsunami of mental health challenges,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, the George and Carol Bauer Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor. “Our psychiatry department has a long history of national and international leadership in the practice and science of psychiatry, and improvements in mental health are one of the top priorities for the School of Medicine over the next five years. Dr. Lenze is an exceptional clinician, revered educator and well-funded investigator whose work has led to new understandings of psychiatric illnesses in older adults. Dr. Chuck Zorumski, the current head of psychiatry, has been an exceptional leader since 1997, while the department has experienced phenomenal growth, and our Executive Faculty believes that Dr. Lenze can lead us to more of the same, with ever more advances in reducing mental illness.”

Lenze’s research has advanced evidence-based medicine for depression, anxiety and cognitive disorders in older adults. His work has led to improvements in the care of treatment-resistant depression, sometimes employing completely new strategies, including work with colleagues that has led to the use of infusions of the anesthesia drug ketamine to treat depression that hasn’t responded to other therapies. In addition, Lenze’s studies have employed nondrug strategies, such as exercise and mindfulness, to battle psychiatric issues in older adults.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to improve mental health care in St. Louis and to make it more accessible and equitable,” Lenze said.

Lenze recently achieved international distinction after he and Angela Reiersen, MD, an associate professor of child psychiatry, showed that the psychiatric drug fluvoxamine was an effective treatment for COVID-19. Their work paves the way for future success in the area of drug repurposing: using available, existing drugs for new purposes.

In addition to his work with the Healthy Mind Lab, Lenze is a co-principal investigator of the Center for Perioperative Mental Health along with Michael S. Avidan, MBBCh, the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor and head of the Department of Anesthesiology. Lenze also is a co-principal investigator with Ben J.A. Palanca, MD, PhD, an associate professor of anesthesiology, on a project investigating the possibility that enhancing slow-wave sleep might help alleviate depression.

Lenze is a deputy editor of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. He also has chaired and served on numerous study sections at the NIH, and he has been a leader in national and international academic and psychiatric societies including the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. At the School of Medicine, residents in the Department of Psychiatry have voted numerous times to recognize him with teaching awards.

The son of a U.S. Army officer, Lenze grew up in many places around the world before settling in Indianapolis. He attended Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned his undergraduate and medical degrees, the latter in 1994. He completed a residency in psychiatry at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in 1998 before moving to the University of Pittsburgh, where he completed a fellowship in geriatric psychiatry and a research fellowship in the university’s Late-Life Mood Disorder Center. He joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001. Zorumski recruited him back to Washington University in 2007.

“I want to acknowledge, recognize and celebrate Dr. Zorumski,” Perlmutter said. “Under his leadership, the department doubled in size, growing from 66 faculty members to 135. Research funding in those years increased from $11.5 million to $62 million, and every other aspect of the clinical, educational and research missions has thrived under his leadership. We are very fortunate that Chuck will continue his research and stay on in his role as director of the Taylor Family Institute for Innovative Psychiatric Research.”

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,700 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, and currently is No. 4 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Jim retired from Washington University in 2023. While at WashU, Jim covered psychiatry and neuroscience, pain and opioid research, orthopedics, diabetes, obesity, nutrition and aging. He formerly worked at KWMU (now St. Louis Public Radio) as a reporter and anchor, and his stories from the Midwest also were broadcast on NPR. Jim hosted the School of Medicine's Show Me the Science podcast, which highlights the outstanding research, education and clinical care underway at the School of Medicine. He has a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.