The focus of the Exploratory Therapeutics Laboratory is to investigate alternative treatments for mental health disorders.

In the United States, depression affects over 16 million people, and 44,000 people die by suicide each year. The Exploratory Therapeutics Laboratory seeks to innovate in the treatment of mental illnesses and explore new therapeutic techniques to reduce these numbers and help people who are suffering. In recent years, the re-emergence of psychedelics in the academic arena has yielded insights which may impact our understanding of the brain, mind, and the treatment of mental illness.

An early but growing body of evidence suggests psychedelic-assisted therapy may be capable of alleviating suffering in refractory psychiatric illness, and in addition to symptom reduction, may facilitate a deepened capacity for connection, acceptance, and meaning. Psychedelic substances have emerged as a unique tool for neuroscientific study of mind and brain, as a window into ancient and indigenous healing practices, and as a powerful tool for investigating spiritual and mystical experience.

Meet the Team

Trisha Suppes, MD, PhD
Director/Principal Investigator

Bio

Dr. Suppes is the Director of Exploratory Therapeutics and Professor at Stanford University in the School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. At the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, she is Director of the CSP NODES and is the Founder of the Bipolar and Depression Research Program. Dr. Suppes is a recognized expert on the biology and treatment of bipolar disorder, and mood disorders generally. Her areas of expertise include long-term treatment strategies for bipolar disorder, identification and treatment of bipolar II disorder, treatment of those with bipolar disorders and co-morbid conditions and use of complementary medicine. She has recently launched a new initiative to explore the use of psychedelics for mood disorders and PTSD in Veterans. Dr. Suppes has been integrally involved in numerous initiatives to improve evidence-based treatment for bipolar disorders. Dr. Suppes participated as a member of the DSM-5 Mood Disorders committee on updating the APA DMS-5 criteria for Mood Disorders and was chair of the APA DSM-5 Bipolar Disorder subcommittee. Her past studies include use of the internet as a tool to support individuals with bipolar disorder and appropriate management of treatment-resistant major depression.  She was the past President of the International Society of Bipolar Disorders and is the immediate past Treasurer of the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology.

Michael Ostacher, MD, MHP
Co-Director

Bio

Dr. Ostacher is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and Staff Psychatrist at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, where he is the Director of the Bipolar and Depression Research Program and the Director of Advanced Fellowship Training in Psychiatry for the VISN 21 MIRECC. A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, the Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School, he completed his training at The Cambridge Health Alliance at Harvard Medical School in Adult Psychiatry, Public Psychiatry, and Geriatric Psychiatry, and is currently board certified in Psychiatry, Addiction Psychiatry, and Addiction Medicine. He is the Digital Content Editor for the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health and is on the editorial boards of Bipolar Disorders, the International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Current Psychiatry, and Psychiatric Annals. He is the Co-Chair of the Bipolar Disorder Task Group of the National Network of Depression Centers. He is on the Executive Committee and is a Site PI for CSP 590, a VA-wide 29-site multicenter study of lithium for suicide prevention in bipolar disorder, and an investigator for PRIME-VA, a 21-site study of Pharmacogenomics in the treatment of major depressive disorder. With funding from NIDA, he studies, along with Jaimee Heffner, Ph.D. at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, smoking cessation in people with bipolar disorder using a novel online psychotherapy derived from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. He designed and led the first trial of a capnometric device in the treatment of PTSD, leading Freespira to FDA-clearance for that indication.  His primary research interest is in large clinical trials in mental illness and the implementation of evidence-based mental health practices.

Boris Heifets, MD, PhD
Co- Director

Bio

Dr. Boris Heifets, MD, PhD, is a board certified anesthesiologist who specializes in providing anesthesia for neurological surgery. He has practiced at Stanford since 2010.  After completing residency training at Stanford, Dr. Heifets completed fellowship training in neuroanesthesiology, also at Stanford. In addition to treating patients, Dr. Heifets also directs both clinical research and basic neuroscience. His research group studies how new rapid acting psychiatric therapies, like ketamine, MDMA and psilocybin, produce lasting changes in nervous system function, behavior, and therapeutic outcomes.

Wendy Feng, MD
Co-Investigator

Bio

Wendy Feng, MD is a staff psychiatrist with the Veterans' Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System and clinician-educator at Stanford University School of Medicine.  She earned the Certificate in Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies and Research from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) and trained in Ketamine-Assisted Therapy with the KRIYA Institute.  Hailing from the Hudson River Valley in Upstate New York, she is descended from first-generation immigrants from Taiwan, whose families arrived there from China following the Chinese Civil War. She is hopeful for the potential of psychedelic medicines to facilitate healthy interconnectedness and healing of both the individual and the collective, particularly for those with marginalized identities and those who have suffered the traumas of war.  She is a member of the MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy team at the Luminous Healing Center and will serve as a Co-Investigator for studies at the Exploratory Therapeutics Laboratory.

Laura Hack, MD, PhD
Co-Investigator

Bio

Dr. Laura Hack is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Director of Novel & Precision Neurotherapeutics at the Stanford Center for Precision Mental Health and Wellness, and a practicing psychiatrist at Stanford and the VA Palo Alto. Dr. Hack completed a combined MD/PhD program at VCU, a general psychiatry residency within the Research Track at Emory, and fellowship training in advanced psychiatry at the VA and Stanford. Dr. Hack's translational research program focuses on identifying bioclinical subtypes of depression and testing mechanistically-guided treatments for these subtypes. These treatments span repurposed medications, neuromodulation, ketamine, and psychedelics.  The ultimate goal of her research is to improve upon our trial-and-error approach to depression treatment and help relieve some of the suffering that accompanies it.

Peter van Roessel, MD, PhD
Co-Investigator

Bio

Dr. Peter van Roessel is a board-certified psychiatrist and Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He completed undergraduate and graduate degrees in neuroscience and developmental neurobiology at Yale University, the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, and at Cambridge University, UK, before completing his medical training at Stanford University and residency training in Psychiatry at at Columbia University and the New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. At Stanford, Dr. van Roessel sees adult mood and anxiety disorders outpatients and participates in resident education as director of a general outpatient psychiatry clinic, as a supervisor in psychodynamic psychotherapy, and as a coordinator of resident teaching in psychopathology and psychopharmacology. He was an Advanced Fellow in Mental Illness Treatment and Research via the Sierra Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center of the Palo Alto VA. Dr van Roessel leads clinical neuroscience studies pioneering rapid-acting interventions in OCD, PTSD, and other anxiety disorders, with clinically motivated research interests including the nature and neural correlates of metacognitive ‘awareness’ (insight) in psychiatric illness, and particularly the relationship between awareness and mechanisms of attentional control.

Sara Ellis, BA
Lab Manager | Clinical Research Coordinator

Bio

Sara Ellis is the lead clinical research coordinator at the Exploratory Therapeutics Laboratory in the VA Palo Alto Health Care System/Stanford Medicine. She is the coordinator for the studies: Safety and Efficacy of Psilocybin in Veterans with Severe Treatment-Resistant Depression and MDMA-assisted therapy versus Cognitive Processing Therapy for Veterans with Severe PTSD. With over 7 years of research experience, she is passionate about assessing ways to improve outcomes for those with severe mental health and substance use disorders through evidence-based interventions. Before joining the lab in 2022, she worked as a Research Analyst at MDRC, a nonprofit social policy research organization, where she evaluated interventions, policies, and programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving the quality of life for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. She has also worked as a lab manager at the Risk-Resilience Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, where she led research projects promoting evidence-based policies and practices that boost the well-being of individuals with severe mental illness involved in the legal system. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2018, and will be starting her Clinical Psychology PhD in the fall of 2024, continuing her work in psychedelic research.

Anna Donnelly, BS
Clinical Research Coordinator

Bio

Anna joined the Exploratory Therapeutics Lab as a Clinical Research Coordinator in 2023. She is working on the study MDMA-assisted therapy versus Cognitive Processing Therapy for Veterans with Severe PTSD. Before joining the ET Lab, Anna worked at the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mass. General Hospital in Boston, conducting cognitive assessments, and coordinating a longitudinal cohort study of neurodegeneration and healthy aging. Originally from Connecticut, she graduated from Northeastern University with a BS in Health Science in 2021.

Garrett Schwartz, BS
Graduate Student

Bio

Garrett is a graduate student in the PGSP-Stanford PsyD consortium working to earn his doctorate to practice as a clinical psychologist. Originally from Los Angeles, Garrett attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and graduated in 2019 with a BS in Developmental Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience. Before graduate school, Garrett worked at Yale University and was primarily involved in fMRI cognitive neuroscience research examining normative longitudinal associations between the brain and behavior/ cognition. He then worked full-time as a clinical associate in an intensive outpatient mental health treatment center for adults presenting with a wide array of psychopathologies. Garrett has been involved with the Exploratory Therapeutics Laboratory since September 2022 and is assisting in data management for a study of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression in veterans and helping to prepare for a study of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD in veterans. Garrett hopes to implement psychedelic science in his clinical practice and is particularly interested in trauma related psychopathologies and bipolar disorders. He hopes that psychedelics may become a useful tool in his therapist toolbox. Garrett is expected to receive his PsyD in 2027.

Gianni Glick, MD

Bio

Gianni Glick is a psychiatry resident at Stanford hospital with a long-standing interest in psychedelic-assisted treatments. At Stanford, he organizes the Stanford Psychedelic Science Group and teaches an "Intro to Psychedelic Medicine" course at the university and medical school. He has a particular interest in group therapy and the field of psychoneuroimmunology, investigating the interdependence of emotional and physical well-being. As a clinician and advocate, he hopes to help legitimize thoughtful exploration of psychedelic-assisted therapies for the treatment of human suffering.

Visit the Stanford Psychedelic Science Group

Vivian Ho, BA
MD Candidate, Stanford Medicine

Bio

Vivian is a medical student at Stanford School of Medicine. She worked on global health and development design projects and completed a Fulbright Scholarship prior to attending medical school. Vivian has been involved in the Exploratory Therapeutics Lab as a researcher, contributing to launching new studies on psychedelic therapies for treatment-resistant depression and severe PTSD in veterans. Vivian co-founded the interdisciplinary Stanford Psychedelic Science Group at Stanford and has taught undergraduate and graduate classes in the field of psychedelic medicine, with a particular interest in psychedelics and social justice. As a physician writer, Vivian has also published pieces about mental health in Scientific American. She is expected to receive her M.D. degree in 2022 and subsequently plans to begin residency training in psychiatry.