Nathaniel G. Harnett, PhD, Receives PFDI Faculty Fellowship

July 12, 2022

McLean Hospital’s Nathaniel G. Harnett, PhD, is the recipient of the 2022 Harvard Catalyst Program for Diversity Inclusion (PFDI) Faculty Fellowship.

Harnett is an assistant neuroscientist at McLean and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

The PFDI program is a two-year, non-degree fellowship program for Harvard junior faculty, and provides $100,000 over the two-year period to support recipients’ clinical and/or translational research, as well as additional scholarly efforts.

The fellowship is offered by the Harvard Medical School Office for Diversity Inclusion and Community Partnership.

Faculty fellows are required to devote appropriate time toward the development of their academic career, to meet regularly with their mentors, and to present at the Annual Minority Health Policy Meeting.

The fellowship is supported by Harvard Medical School, HMS-affiliated hospitals, and Harvard Catalyst | The Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center.

Photo of Nathaniel Harnett
Nathaniel G. Harnett, PhD

Harnett’s research project investigates the neurodevelopmental impacts of structural racism.

“It’s an honor to receive the PFDI Faculty Fellowship and continue the important work we started here at McLean in trying to understand how structural racism causes real, physical harm to the brain,” Harnett said.

“The support from the fellowship will afford us access to some of the largest datasets with cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques that we can pool together, and this will help us unravel how systemic racial inequities in the United States may contribute to accelerated neurobiological aging.”

The project incorporates multiple areas of investigation: from neuroscience and psychiatric to development and racism-related stress. The results will provide novel insight into the neurobiological consequences of structural racism across the life span.

“This is such a well-deserved recognition for Dr. Harnett, who is a growing leader in this important new field,” said Kerry J. Ressler, MD, PhD, chief of McLean’s Division of Depression and Anxiety Disorders and Harnett’s mentor for the fellowship.

“Identifying and better understanding how chronic, structural racism affects the neurobiology and overall mental health of individuals who endure it can ultimately lead to new or more effective assessment, treatment, and coping options for members of affected communities.”

In addition to this project, Harnett, who works in Ressler’s Neurobiology of Fear Laboratory at McLean, leverages magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques—including functional MRI, structural MRI, and diffusion weighted imaging—to identify multimodal neural signatures of PTSD susceptibility in the acute aftermath of trauma exposure.

The overarching emphasis of his work is on elucidating neural circuitry linked to acute and long-term development of post-traumatic syndromes and identifying robust and generalizable neurobiological targets for early intervention and treatment.

Ultimately, the goal of this research is to develop predictive and preventative neuroscience-based techniques to reduce the prevalence of trauma and stress-related disorders.

Harnett earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ithaca College and a doctorate in psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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