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Mount Sinai doctor/professor returns to present
   neurobiology research

by John Simard

Dr. Yasmin Hurd ’82 smiled as she stood in front of the conference room to present her neurobiology research: “I am just thinking about the journey, the path, and it all started here at Binghamton University.”

To Hurd, her time at Harpur College was “very significant. The people that are my closest friends today are people that I met at Binghamton…. It was a nurturing environment.”

Hurd, a professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, presented at a Psychology Colloquium on Oct. 5, before a packed conference room in Clearview Hall. Her presentation, "The Vulnerable Brain: Understanding the Neurobiology of Addiction Risks," was delivered with enthusiasm and passion.

“I love the brain” she said later, as she explained her presentation, “The question is why are some people more vulnerable to certain psychiatric disorders than others.” Throughout her presentation she discussed how addiction to drugs is related to neurobiology: “I look at it in two ways. I look at it in terms of genetics and I look at it in terms of early environmental exposures."

“When studying how certain genes, and mutations of those genes, are associated, for example, with heroin abuse, I try to see how the brains of people with these mutations look versus those who do not have the mutation. This gives us some insights into what might be the neurobiology of risk."

“Prevention, and also treatment, involve understanding what has gone wrong for some people and not others … understanding individual vulnerability is key,” she said. “Many people will experiment with a drug especially during their teenage years and they won’t realize that they are much more vulnerable than their friends, because they have a particular genetic makeup that is a little different, that makes them a little more vulnerable.”

Hurd views her work toward understanding addiction not only as intellectually valuable, but as something that could be significant to the community at large.

“Substance abuse costs our society billions of dollars each year,” she said. “We could definitely get rid of a huge part of our government debt by treating addiction. Most of the people in prisons are there related to drug abuse or some aspect of drug disorders. You can continue to build more and more prisons or you can help the people so they can contribute to society."

“Addiction is a developmental disorder. Most people come into addiction as teenagers or young adults, before their pre-frontal cortex starts kicking in. By treating addiction you get more people to reach their potential. We save the community billions of dollars, we save families, we save people.” The passion that grew in her since she started her journey at Binghamton is something she said is a necessity for anyone pursuing success: “I believe in every core of my being that you have to have passion and you have to follow that passion. Obviously, my career path is a little unusual and a little challenging, but if you look at the path ahead of you as being too challenging or difficult you won’t achieve most goals in life. So you have to focus on your passion and your drive and forget about the statistics.”

For Hurd, passion involves action.

“Say to yourself, if I’m interested in the brain, if I’m interested in cancer, if I’m interested in this aspect of research, let me go and find the people who are doing that kind of work and try to be a part of it,” she said. “I think a lot of students try not to be visible and they don’t really ask for help. If I could go back I would try to ask for more help and I’d try to find more mentors. Mentors are essential in expanding your network. Use every opportunity you can to introduce yourself to someone, to try to go and work in the top labs.”

Aside from her love for the brain, Hurd expresses a love for the body: “I think art is just amazing. Before Binghamton I would always draw, but in Binghamton I took this course on drawing the human body using charcoal. We drew nudes. Now, I understand why these great art masters always painted the human body, the nudes. I think the human body is beautiful and I don’t mean in terms of someone who is skinny or muscular. I still paint … all these years later and it started with that class at Binghamton.”

Hurd is chief of the Center of Excellence in Mood and Motivation and chair of The Diversity and Biomedical Research Committee at Mount Sinai, loves the color purple and speaks Swedish.

She encourages students to not only be passionate, but to be a little uncomfortable sometimes: “I spent many years in Sweden. I would recommend to students stepping outside your comfort zone. Going to Sweden was really amazing for me, because I wasn’t Swedish I didn’t look blonde, and blue-eyed, and I wasn’t supposed to fit in, and it was therefore so easy to do that and focus on who I was as a person. I think I found myself. Sometimes when you step outside your clear apparent comfort zone you find yourself. If all of us could do that more we could see who we really are.”

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Last Updated: 12/10/14