Prechter Program Saunders

Erika F.H. Saunders, M.D.

Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine and Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Gerald B. Shively and Robert Y. Tan Professor of Biological Psychiatry
Director, Mood Disorder Program


Dr. Saunders earned a B.S. from the University of Michigan and an M.D. from the University of Iowa. She completed a Howard Hughes Research Fellowship at Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and residency training in psychiatry at the University of Michigan.  

Dr. Saunders’ group seeks to improve the understanding of the interaction between biological systems, clinical presentation, and physiological processes in bipolar disorder; and implications for improving treatments. Her work has focused on improving the characterizing of the polyunsaturated fatty acid system and inflammatory markers of disease and relationship to mood and sleep. Dr. Saunders’ work has been recognized nationally, and she has spoken about her work at meetings of the Society for Biological Psychiatry, the American Society for Clinical Psychopharmacology, and American Psychiatric Association

Dr. Saunders was granted membership to the American College of Psychiatrists, and is a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. As a junior investigator, she was awarded a NCDEU New Investigator Award and was selected for participation in the APA Colloquium for Junior Investigators and a number of other programs. Dr. Saunders is a section editor and on the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, and is on the program committee for the American Society for Clinical Psychopharmacology. She is active in medical student and residency education, and was awarded a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and a PSU Resident Teaching award.

Research Interests

Dr. Saunders’ lab studies the link between clinical phenotype of bipolar disorder and biologic and genetic underpinnings of the disease. Bipolar disorder has a variable clinical presentation that likely reflects multiple biological and genetic etiologies. Through the study of biological factors that correlate with clinical phenotype and outcome, she aims to identify markers of illness that define subgroups of patients who may have a homogeneous etiology of illness, and use those markers to predict and to follow treatment response. Focusing on subpopulations of patients narrows the variability in etiology and treatment response and moves the field closer to applying principles of personalized medicine to patients suffering from bipolar disorder. Using the tools of translational research, with collaborators from Penn State University Park (main campus), the University of Michigan Prechter Bipolar Research Group, the University of Maryland, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and the National Institutes of Health, her lab is currently studying the relationship between sleep phenotypes, mood outcome and inflammation, stress hormones and metabolites of polyunsaturated fatty acid pathways.