Meet Lucy Wang, MD, Research Psychiatrist

by Kirsten Rohde, RN

photo of Lucy Wang

Dr. Lucy Wang has been a member of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) research team since 2007, when she received a Research Fellowship from the VA Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center. Many research participants meet Dr. Wang in the ADRC clinic as part of their involvement in research studies. Dr. Wang is also the main doctor for a study that is evaluating the effectiveness of a medication called prazosin for the treatment of disruptive behaviors in dementia. We all enjoy working with her and thought it was time to hear from her about her work.

Dr. Wang was born in Pennsylvania, the oldest daughter of two mathematicians who emigrated from Taiwan. She says that her parents’ professions and interests instilled in her an inquisitive mind and a love for math and science. These interests led her to study research and biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then on to Penn State Medical School at Hershey, where she found her vocation in psychiatry, a field Dr. Wang considers the perfect combination of working with people and science. As part of her training rotation in geriatric psychiatry, she worked extensively with people who had Alzheimer’s disease or who experienced behavioral problems that were related to other aging disorders. These experiences made a lasting impression on Dr. Wang; she realized that “this was an area of medicine and psychiatry that deserved more attention than it was getting.”

She went on to complete her medical residency at the University of Washington in 2006, and a geriatric psychiatry fellowship in 2007. One of Dr. Wang’s preceptors during her residency and fellowship was Debby Tsuang, MD, who works at the VA with the ADRC. In Dr. Wang’s fourth year of residency, she did a research project, under Dr. Tsuang’s supervision, to study how people’s scores on a specific memory test may be related to the development of Alzheimer's disease. If you have participated in research at the ADRC, you have most likely been asked to listen to a short story and then to try to recall as much of the story as possible—this test, known as the Logical Memory test, is the test Dr. Wang was studying. [She found that people’s scores on the Logical Memory task was indeed an indicator related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.]

Once at the VA in Seattle, Dr. Wang also started working with Elaine Peskind, MD, the associate director of the ADRC, particularly on Dr. Peskind’s research on the drug prazosin for the treatment of disruptive behaviors. Currently, Dr. Wang is a key researcher in this study. She takes calls from family members who inquire about the study, assesses research participants at their first appointments, and oversees participants’ progress while they are participating in the study. She is also a member of the geriatric psychiatry consulting team that visits the Caroline Kline Galland Home twice a month. This team provides residents of Caroline Kline Galland Home psychiatric assessments and recommendations for treatment. Some of these residents also participate in the prazosin study. The volunteer consulting team has been valued greatly by the Caroline Kline Galland Home staff and has been providing consultations there for over twenty years.

We are very happy to announce that Dr. Wang will be continuing to work within the ADRC, as she recently received word that the VA has presented her with a VA Career Development Award, a grant that is designed to support new researchers in their attempts to find out more about illnesses that negatively affect veterans. Dr. Wang’s work will focus on the role of the neuroendocrine system in agitation and dementia. Her study will compare the levels of certain stress-related hormones and proteins in people with dementia to people without dementia. She will also examine the levels of these hormones and proteins in people with dementia who have agitated behaviors. These levels will be measured by collecting saliva samples. Additionally, participants’ overall activity or movements will be measured over a forty-eight-hour period using a method called actigraphy in which participants wear a wristwatch-like device that measures how active a person is. This research is designed to discover if there are ways to demonstrate measurable changes in the brain that are related to agitated behaviors.

Being a researcher can mean a busy life, but Dr. Wang enjoys reading mystery novels in her spare time. She also enjoys spending time with friends and family.

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