Benjamin Suarez-Jimenez

University of Rochester

Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

Mental Health Human MRI Virtual Reality PTSD Anxiety Stress Psychopathology

I earned a Bachelor of Psychology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, where I began examining the impact of the 2003 Iraq war on children's resiliency and academic performance. Afterward, I participated in the Summer Program for Undergraduate Research Fellowship and the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which led to an NIMH Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) to further my research training. During both post-baccalaureate programs, I delved into the biology of anxiety in primates. Seeking to deepen my understanding of anxiety in humans and hone my research skills, I pursued a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the NIMH-UCL Graduate Partnership Program, mentored by Drs. Christian Grillon and Daniel Pine at the NIMH and Professor Neil Burgess at University College London (UCL). In my research, I explored neural activity involved in environmental discrimination learning using basic task-based fMRI methods. To accomplish this, I developed and validated a novel virtual reality (VR) paradigm for studying discrimination learning in healthy adults. To expand my research into clinically relevant areas of PTSD, I was awarded a T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein Institutional National Research Service Award (NRSA) postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University, where I worked under the mentorship of Dr. Yuval Neria. Later, I received a K01 grant and was promoted to Assistant Professor in the Psychiatry Department. During this time, I gained expertise in the assessment and treatment of pathological anxiety and PTSD and developed an interest in understanding the neural signatures of PTSD using VR tasks. These experiences have deepened my commitment to studying the neural mechanisms of environmental discrimination learning in anxiety and trauma-related disorders. I aim to use virtual reality (VR), multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and machine learning to better understand the psychological and neural signatures of PTSD and anxiety disorders. My focus is on the contextual aspect of threat and reward learning, discrimination, and monitoring, particularly in cases where a smaller area within a larger environment becomes associated with a threat, such as a neighborhood where an assault occurred or a location on a battlefield where explosions took place. Patients with PTSD and anxiety disorders often exhibit an overgeneralization or exaggerated response to threats in larger contexts, even in environments that should be safe. By identifying new brain measures, my goal is to develop more sensitive, personalized, and precise diagnostic and treatment tools for psychopathology.

About Benjamin