Psychiatry’s Kaplan left Pitt to start training program at NIMH

Barry Kaplan, a former psychiatry faculty member in the School of Medicine and director of the Molecular Neurobiology and Genetics Program at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic who went on to run an important new training program at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), died April 15, 2023.

Kaplan was born in the Bronx, N.Y. He earned his bachelor of arts and master of science degrees in biology from Hofstra University and his doctorate in cell and developmental biology from Cornell University’s College of Medicine in 1974. He undertook postdoctoral studies at the Andrus Gerontology Center of the University of Southern California in 1976, taught first at Cornell’s medical school and then joined the Pitt faculty in 1984.

At the University, his department’s remembrance said, “He made significant contributions to the understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.” His research “focused on the subcellular compartmentalization of neuronal gene expression, using the giant axon of the squid, primary sympathetic neurons and transgenic animal models. His work has led to significant advances in our understanding of the mechanisms of axonal RNA transport, neuronal microRNA function, and synaptic protein synthesis, which has provided fundamental insights into the molecular basis of neuronal growth and development.”

He joined the NIMH Intramural Research Program in 1997, and became its first director of the Office of Fellowship Training. There, he created the first training office on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) campus, “and was responsible for the development of a multidisciplinary neuroscience training program for hundreds of postdoctoral fellows, clinical research associates, graduate students, post-baccalaureate fellows and summer students,” his department said.

He was chief of NIMH’s Section on Molecular Neurobiology (1998-2018) where “his dedication to mentoring young scientists was unparalleled, inspiring countless individuals to pursue careers in medicine and neuroscience.”

He also served on many professional journals’ editorial boards and on several NIH scientific review committees and advisory boards, influencing the development of graduate programs, evaluating research proposals and funding scientific projects.

Psychiatry faculty member Judy Cameron, who had an office beside Kaplan for more than a decade at Western Psychiatric, recalled her colleague as “just a character” and “a very good neurobiologist. He cared an enormous amount about students and training.”

She remembered trying to recruit him to join a retreat among faculty at the Center for Neuroscience around 1987, and getting his response: “I care about training, but I will never retreat.” Cameron saw him a few years ago at NIMH, she said, and Kaplan told her: “Well, that came back to bite me. I run the training program and I’m constantly trying to get faculty to do things.”

The NIMH wrote of Kaplan as “a dedicated scientist, a compassionate mentor, and a beloved friend and colleague…”

He is survived by his wife Annie Kaplan, son Raymond, daughter-in-law Glennyce and grandson Sebastian. 

Memorial contributions are suggested to CurePSP.

Marty Levine