Scientists at NCBS to study how mental illness runs in families in India
The NCBS study, to be conducted in collaboration with the InStem and the NIMHANS, will also focus on mental illnesses, especially bipolar disorders, among youth
New Delhi: With nearly 3% of the population at risk of developing mental illness, scientists at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) have launched a large-scale study that would bring scientists and doctors together on one platform to study how mental illness runs in families in India.
“Most studies in the past were cross-sectional, but this is prospective, where we will follow people with mental illness and those who are at risk of developing the disorder for years to understand how the disorder develops and what changes occur in the brain,” said Dr Raghu Padinjat of NCBS, one of the coordinators of the research.
The research, which is one of the first such large-scale studies, is being jointly funded by the department of biotechnology and the Pratiksha Trust for the initial five years. The study, which has been launched under the Accelerator Program for Discovery in Brain Disorders (APDB), is being undertaken by NCBS, a branch of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
It will be conducted in collaboration with the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (InStem) and the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS).
It will be for the first time that researchers will try to understand changes taking place in living cells of the brain of a person affected with mental illness.
“The technique is called ‘disease in dish model’, a stem cell technology, which will allow us to take a blood sample and convert it into stem cells, which can be made to differentiate into neurons in a dish,” said Dr Padinjat.
The research not only aims to develop novel solutions for diagnosis and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, but also investigate their genetic make-up to explore how mental illness runs in families. The study would focus on families where more than one person has been affected. It also aims to help in offering personalised medicine when a specific change is detected early in the brain.
The research holds significance as the recent national mental health survey indicated that at least 15% of adults are in need of active intervention for one or more mental health issue, with the middle age working population being the most affected.
Researchers will recruit 4,500 individuals affected by one or more of the five syndromes, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Alzheimer’s and substance-use disorders. They will undergo clinical assessment and blood samples will be drawn to isolate their DNA.
The research will include 300 families with a strong history of mental illness, of which 67 families have been identified and stem cells generated from at least 150 individuals who underwent clinical examination.
The researchers emphasised that it was significant to study genetic basis of mental illness and highlighted that patients often brought in other family members for treatment of similar disorders.
The researchers would also study families in South India where there is prevalence of people marrying relatives to identify genetic loci, which leads to mental illness. “Kin-marriages provide a unique opportunity to study the genetic make up for such complex disorders, as such a population is homozygous,” said Dr Padinjat, elaborating on how the genetic material becomes more similar in such cases over time, giving rise to diseases.
The study will also focus on mental illnesses, especially bipolar disorders, among youth. “Unlike, Alzheimer’s, the onset of bipolar disorder, which swings between depression and mania is usually early in life. This will also be studied, to devise early interventions for diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr Padinjat.
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