SOBP Somerfeld-Ziskind Award
In 1990, a grant from the Ziskind-Somerfeld Research Foundation was made to the SOBP to establish the Ziskind-Somerfeld Research Award (also referred to as the Somerfeld-Ziskind Research Award). This annual award was to be offered in either basic or clinical research for the purpose of stimulating investigations in biological psychiatry. The co-winners of the first award, announced at the May 1991 annual meeting, were Sofia Avissar and Gabriel Schreiber, and their co-authored paper on the involvement of guanine nucleotide binding proteins in affective disorders was published in Biological Psychiatry in March 1992.
The Ziskind-Somerfeld Research Foundation was named for the husband and wife clinical and research “team” of Eugene Ziskind and Esther Somerfeld-Ziskind. Esther and Eugene met during their undergraduate years at the University of Chicago, attended Rush Medical College, and then pursued post-graduate training in Los Angeles, where they married in 1928.
Eugene was born in 1900 and received his medical degree in 1924. He began in 1925 what was then informal training in neurology (before an official neurology residency existed) at the Los Angeles County General Hospital, an era where there was a relative emphasis on combined neurological and psychiatric training. He was instrumental in combining neurology and neurosurgery services at LACGH, later serving as department chairs at County-USC Medical Center and at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (now Cedars-Sinai Medical Center), both affiliated with the University of Southern California College of Medicine.
Esther, born a year after Eugene, received her medical degree in 1925. During her school years in Chicago, Esther worked as a secretary and as a manuscript editor for the Journal of the American Medical Association. She interned at LACGH, completed residency training in pediatrics at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, and then joined Eugene for additional training in neurology and psychiatry. In 1934, Esther completed a master’s program in psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles. She was a faculty member at the USC Medical College, serving as chair of the psychiatry department at Cedars during the 1940s.
During his career, Eugene published more than 140 papers on epilepsy and psychiatric disorders, including psychophysiologic studies of sociopathy, sensory deprivation investigations, the effects of insulin shock in epilepsy and psychiatric disorders, and the therapeutic use of chemically-induced convulsions (with Metrazol) and electrically-induced convulsions in patients with epilepsy, affective psychoses, and schizophrenia. He published a well-regarded book, entitled Psychophysiologic Medicine, in 1954.
From the 1930s through the early 1950s, Esther was lead author or co-author with Eugene on many of these papers. In later years, she published book reviews in the American Journal of Psychiatry and JAMA. In a 1994 JAMA review of a book on motor disorder in psychiatry, she stated “Now that psychoanalysis is on the wane, inevitably earlier opinions in psychiatry will resurface”, prompting an irate letter to the editor.
While also collaborating on clinical research, the couple established their own private practice in psychiatry and later set up a free community psychiatric clinic. They were notable for introducing group psychotherapy to the southern California region, which Esther taught at USC. It is interesting to note that Eugene, a consummate biological psychiatrist, published three papers on psychotherapy, two of which advocated psychotherapy training for all physicians. He died in 1993, having received a number of awards during his career, including the George N. Thompson Award from the SOBP in 1987. Esther, also the recipient of several awards, never fully retired, and she continued to see patients until the last year of her life. She died at the ripe old age of 101.