Providing Molecular Insights for Mental Health
It is estimated that one in two Canadians will have had a mental illness by the time they reach the age of 40. As campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues gain momentum, so does research into their treatment and management.
Since the 1950s, treating mental illness has largely consisted of prescribing antipsychotics—drugs that regulate the action of the three major neurotransmitters in our bodies: dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. But the actual biological mechanisms by which antipsychotic drugs act to treat or manage mental illnesses have been poorly understood.
Dr. Jean Martin Beaulieu, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Psychiatry, is combining genetics, genome editing, behavioural studies and biochemistry to reveal how cellular and molecular mechanisms regulated by psychoactive drugs intersect with the genetic risk factors for mental illnesses.
The fundamental discoveries Beaulieu and his team are making are helping inform the development of new drugs and drug development technologies. For example, Beaulieu’s breakthrough into how mood stabilizer drugs like lithium target the cellular signalling mechanisms that regulate our behaviour has led to improvements in this drug class—and better treatment of bipolar disorder.
By providing such insights into the biology behind psychiatric medicines, Beaulieu’s research is ultimately contributing to better, safer treatments for people with mental illness in Canada and around the world.