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BRAINS grant

Building on the work of the Human Connectome Project, which is identifying the neural pathways that underlie brain function and behavior, a new study at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is aiming to identify how those pathways are different in people with psychiatric illnesses. Researchers are using high-resolution imaging tools to identify structural and functional connectivity patterns in the brains of patients with psychiatric disorders and then comparing those scans to others taken of the brains of people who don’t have the disorders. The idea is to see whether, and how, connectivity patterns change in the brains of people with those illnesses.

A NEW STUDY AT WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE IN ST. LOUIS IS AIMING TO USE BRAIN IMAGING TO IDENTIFY NETWORKS AND PATHWAYS THAT UNDERLIE BRAIN FUNCTION IN PEOPLE WITH PSYCHIATRIC ILLNESSES. JIM DRYDEN REPORTS…

THE STUDY IS ONE OF VERY FEW BEING FUNDED BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF MENTAL HEALTH’S “BIOBEHAVIORAL RESEARCH AWARD FOR INNOVATIVE NEW SCIENTISTS,” OR “BRAINS.” THE PROJECT WILL BUILD ON THE WORK OF THE HUMAN CONNECTOME PROJECT, USING STATE-OF-THE-ART IMAGING TECHNIQUES TO TRY AND UNCOVER BRAIN CONNECTIVITY-BASED SUBGROUPS IN THOSE WHO HAVE PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS. WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY PSYCHIATRIST DANIEL MAMAH IS DIRECTING THE STUDY.

(act) :25 o/c psychiatric disorders

In psychiatry, diagnoses, essentially, are based on symptoms

that are reported by the patient, which is, obviously,

very important, but we may have better validity if we

incorporated brain-imaging measures. And so what we’re

trying to do is trying to look at the connectivity within

the brain and try to see if, using that, we can come up with

better sub-categories of psychiatric disorders.

BECAUSE CLINICAL SYMPTOMS, MAMAH SAYS, ARE NOT EVERYTHING. THAT’S WHY PHYSICIANS AND SCIENTISTS HAVE DEVELOPED OTHER WAYS TO TEST FOR DISEASES LIKE HEART DISEASE OR UNDERLYING PROBLEMS LIKE HYPERTENSION. IT’S NOT THAT A PATIENT’S CLINICAL SYMPTOMS AREN’T IMPORTANT, BUT THEY DON’T TELL THE ENTIRE STORY.

(act) :18 o/c underlying abnormality

And sometimes the clinical symptoms may not even be very

prominent. So you can have a really high blood pressure and

have no symptoms. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have high

blood pressure. It just means that you’re not symptomatic.

So it’s really important to, sometimes, dissociate symptoms

from underlying abnormality.

MAMAH SAYS IN THE PAST, THERE HAVE BEEN STUDIES OF PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS USING BRAIN IMAGING, BUT NOT WITH THE NEWER, MORE PRECISE IMAGING TECHNIQUES USED BY THE CONNECTOME PROJECT. AND HE BELIEVES THOSE TOOLS WILL HELP SETTLE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS RAISED IN PAST IMAGING STUDIES.

(act) :17 o/c exact thing

There are a lot of authors that have published on

abnormal functional connectivity networks in a variety

of psychiatric disorders — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder,

major depression — the problem, though, is that they don’t

always report the same exact thing.

MAMAH SAYS HE AND HIS COLLEAGUES WON’T BE LOOKING FOR TREATMENT TARGETS…AT LEAST NOT YET. BUT HE SAYS THAT IF THE IMAGING TESTS ARE ABLE TO REVEAL NEW FACTS ABOUT HOW CERTAIN PSYCHIATRIC PROBLEMS DISRUPT NORMAL BRAIN CONNECTIVITY, SOME POTENTIAL TREATMENT TARGETS MAY EMERGE. CURRENTLY, HE SAYS, IT’S CLEAR THAT ALTHOUGH SOME PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS MAY SHARE CLINICAL SYMPTOMS, THEY MAY NOT SHARE THE SAME UNDERLYING CAUSES. AND HE BELIEVES BY IDENTIFYING THOSE CAUSES WITH IMAGING STUDIES, IT COULD BECOME POSSIBLE TO TREAT PATIENTS WITH THOSE PROBLEMS MORE EFFECTIVELY.

(act) :17 o/c have found

People that are depressed, you give them antidepressants.

Some get better. Some don’t. The idea is if you’re able

to disentangle the different types of schizophrenia, the

different types of bipolar, then we can develop better

treatments for the specific subgroups that we have found.

MAMAH’S BRAINS AWARD GRANT IS ONE OF ONLY 8 IN THE COUNTRY TO BE FUNDED BY THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF MENTAL HEALTH THIS YEAR. I’M JIM DRYDEN…

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