HMHI Expert Spotlight: Nina de Lacy, MD, MBA

Aug 17, 2021 9:00 AM

Nina de Lacy, MD, MBA portrait

Nina de Lacy, MD, MBA, has an incredibly diverse background. With an MBA in finance, she spent a decade working in trading and investment banking on Wall Street before attending medical school and qualifying as a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist. Subsequently, she trained as a data scientist, and her laboratory now works at the interface of computational science, artificial intelligence, and population mental health.

Her current data science research focuses on determining psychiatric risk trajectories from childhood to young adulthood by applying techniques from artificial intelligence to build mathematical models of mental illness. The long-term goal of her research program is to generate actionable findings that influence prevention and intervention strategies, while also improving prognostic ability by pinpointing the factors that shape vulnerable trajectories of maturation and those that tip vulnerability into developing mental illness.

A recent paper, Multilevel Mapping of Sexual Dimorphism in Intrinsic Functional Brain Networks, was named a 2021 Editor’s Pick by Frontiers in Neuroscience, as one of the most well-received articles from the past few years.

“I like that the institute will center its efforts on improving mental health on many fronts, from hard bench research and mental health stigma campaigns to clinical services.”

Nina de Lacy, MD, MBA

In early July, de Lacy started as a full-time research faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry after conducting a nationwide job search. “Moving my family, my research program, and my research lab was a big decision. I talked to dozens of people from across the country at many universities. More than any other institution, I was so impressed by the collaborative nature of scientific research at the University of Utah. The people here are just plain nice.”

In addition, de Lacy was excited that the university has such a deep bench in computational and data science. She is excited about collaborating with the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute under the new leadership of Manish Parashar and sees the Center for High-Performance Computing as a “hidden gem” that efficiently supports complex research relying on advanced artificial intelligence and data science techniques.

The collaborative and supportive environment and people ultimately led de Lacy, who had multiple job offers, to choose the University of Utah and Huntsman Mental Health Institute.

“I was extremely impressed with what the University of Utah and the Huntsman family are trying to do here in Utah. This is the only effort of its kind that I know of where the university, private donors, and the community are coming together to focus on mental health at a national and international scale,” she said. “I like that the institute will center its efforts on improving mental health on many fronts, from hard bench research and mental health stigma campaigns to clinical services.”

De Lacy noted that mental health is a leading cause of disability and the most expensive health condition in the U.S. She explained that mental health is the only health condition with an increasing burden of disease—trends are going in the wrong direction. The demand for inpatient hospital beds has not changed since the 1880s (she knows for sure, because she did the math herself), and about one-third of patients cannot find treatments that work.

“We have a lot of work to do. It’s past time for an effort like the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. This is a visionary thing we are trying to do together, and that the Huntsman family has made possible. I am just excited to be a part of it.”

HMHI is thrilled that de Lacy will be conducting her research at the institute and sharing her expertise across campus and with the broader community.

When she is not in her lab focusing on mental health and data science to predict mental illness, de Lacy is often working on her second passion, forestry and conservation. She and her family own and care for an old-growth forest in Washington, and they recently purchased land in Utah where they plan to restore the ecosystem. She also plays Appalachian fiddle and banjo, and designs and makes tapestries.

mental health