Dissecting the genes of psychiatric disease
Although about one in five Canadians are affected by psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia, autism and depression during their lifetimes, the causes of these disorders remain largely unknown. Most patients follow similar treatment programs, which include a broad range of drugs and psychotherapy. These one-size- fits-all treatments are not always effective. It is important to identify the underlying biology of psychiatric disease so that appropriate, personalized treatments can be designed.
Emerging evidence suggests that mutated genes may be responsible for many psychiatric disorders, but that mutations in many different genes can lead to highly similar symptoms. The use of patient-specific stem cells to understand a patient’s genes and how these might contribute to disease allows for an individualized approach to medicine.
Dr. Carl Ernst, Canada Research Chair in Psychiatric Genetics, is using DNA sequencing technology in combination with patients’ stem cells to understand psychiatric disease on the individual level. Doing so will help identify mutated genes that might be involved in disease and lead to the design of new treatments to repair cells.
Ernst is screening the DNA of Canadians affected with psychiatric disease for mutations. Once a mutation has been identified, he is growing a patient’s skin cells and converting these cells into brain cells. The cells are then probed with small molecules to understand how a particular mutation differs from brain cells that do not carry the mutation.
Ernst’s research could lead to the development of more effective individualized treatments to alleviate psychiatric diseases.