In this project we propose to understand self-regulation processes and mechanisms underlying evidence-based behavioral interventions for the treatment of obesity and depression, 2 of the top contributors to the burden of disease and disability in the US and globally. The project synergistically integrates human neuroscience and behavioral science to identify which self-regulation targets are engaged by the intervention among which subgroups of the population and how we can harness these target mechanisms to promote greater health behavior change, better weight management and improved mood. In a series of 3 interrelated studies we will identify, validate and refine a set of assays to measure self-regulation targets; and to engage these targets to optimize behavioral treatment of coexisting obesity and depression among adults. Given the widespread relevance of these disorders and the targeted health behaviors (adherence to self-tracking and medications, physical activity, diet), this research will be a prototype for understanding and optimizing behavioral interventions for multiple chronic conditions, with profound potential impacts on population health.


Jun Ma, MD, PhD

Principal Investigator

University of Illinois at Chicago

Institute for Health Research and Policy

Chicago, IL

Dr. Ma is a professor of public health and medicine and director of the Center for Health Behavior Research in the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a dually trained MD and PhD scientist with expertise in preventive medicine, nutrition science, and biometry. Dr. Ma has devoted her career to developing new knowledge in precision lifestyle medicine science and translating it into clinical and public health practice to promote patient-centered population health management and health equality. Prior to joining the UIC in August 2015, Dr. Ma was a senior scientist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute and a consulting professor at Stanford University School of Medicine. Over the past 15 years, Dr. Ma have established a solid and progressive portfolio that embodies an integrative and transformative approach to actionable research, education, and outreach. Her Precision Lifestyle Medicine research portfolio is designed to: (1) Accelerate the process of translating biobehavioral research discoveries into treatments for diverse patient populations; (2) Train a new generation of clinical and translational researchers; and (3) Engage stakeholders and communities in clinical studies and dissemination and implementation efforts. Dr. Ma’s research seeks to address highly intractable health problems and disparities among racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse adult populations in private mixed-payer, managed care, and public health systems, and in communities. The primary foci are on new delivery models of behavioral interventions and neurophysiological mechanisms of behavior and behavior change in multiple major chronic conditions that are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States and globally. These include, but are not limited to, obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, prediabetes, metabolic syndrome, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression. Dr. Ma is particularly interested in effective prevention and control of these debilitating and costly chronic conditions through comprehensive, mechanism-driven lifestyle interventions that are individual patient-centered and, at the same time, scalable and sustainable for population health management through use of internet and mobile technologies. Her research is also focused on designing and evaluating lifestyle interventions specifically for underserved populations such as Blacks and Latinos. Furthermore, Dr. Ma has directed the development and publication of new randomization methods and software programs. In addition to her extensive experience leading rigorous experiments ranging from pilot randomized studies to multicenter pragmatic trials, she have also published frequently on national patterns of outpatient care quality and health disparities in lifestyle-related physical and mental health disorders using complex population survey datasets.

Leanne Williams, PhD

Principal Investigator

Stanford University

Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Stanford, CA

Dr. Williams is Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. At Stanford Dr. Williams is developing new precision medicine models for mental health. She founded the Williams' Panlab for Precision Mental Health and Translational Neuroscience. She also leads department-wide initiatives in precision mental health as Associate Chair of Research Strategy and as the Chair of a research incubator that harnesses the activities of major labs focused on clinical translational neuroscience. She has a joint position at the Palo Alto VA Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center where she is Director of education and dissemination, focused on post-traumatic stress and associated health issues. Dr. Williams first came to Stanford as a visiting Professor in 2011. At that time she was leading a multi-site international study to identify brain biomarkers for depression and antidepressant response. She was thrilled to join the Stanford faculty in 2013. Prior to this time she was foundation Professor of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry at the Sydney Medical School and Director of the interdisciplinary Sydney Brain Dynamics Center for 12 years. Her research programs center around three primary themes: 1. Defining and understanding the organization of large-scale human brain circuits and how these circuits generate complex human behaviors such as emotional response and regulation, cognitive control and self-reflective thought. Under this theme she integrates data across neuroimaging, behavioral, self-report and genetic modalities, and pursues new computational approaches to understand the linkages between these modalities; 2.  Identifying naturally occurring types of mental disorder characterized by disruptions to large-scale brain circuits and the associated impact on behavior and subjective experience. Under this approach she goes beyond traditional psychiatric diagnostic boundaries and also encompasses comborbid mental and general health issues and 3. Harnessing new insights from human neuroscience and related psychosocial factors in order to guide the choice among current treatment options and to help develop novel therapeutics, to improve outcomes for each person. Dr. Williams’ research has contributed over 250 publications to the field and attracted awards that include the $1M Pfizer Foundation Research award and the American Psychosomatic Society Presidential award.

Susan Czajkowski, PhD


Project Scientist

Janine Simmons, MD, PhD


Lead Project Scientist

Catherine Stoney, PhD


Program Official

1. Green E, Goldstein-Piekarski AN, Schatzberg A, Rush AJ, Ma J, Williams LM. Personalizing antidepressant choice by sex, body mass index, and symptom profile: An iSPOT-D report. Personalized Medicine in Psychiatry. In press.

2. Ma, J., Lewis, M. A., & Smyth, J. M. (2018). Translational behavioral medicine for population and individual health: gaps, opportunities, and vision for practice-based translational behavior change research. Translational behavioral medicine.

3. Williams, L. M., Pines, A., Goldstein-Piekarski, A. N., Rosas, L. G., Kullar, M., Sacchet, M. D., ... & Wandell, B. (2017). The ENGAGE study: Integrating neuroimaging, virtual reality and smartphone sensing to understand self-regulation for managing depression and obesity in a precision medicine model. Behaviour research and therapy.

4. Ma, J., Rosas, L. G., & Lv, N. (2016). Precision lifestyle medicine: a new frontier in the science of behavior change and population health. American journal of preventive medicine, 50(3), 395.