The Mental Health Rare Genetic Disease Network (MHRGDN) is a newly launched system, developed by the National Institute of Mental Health. The MHRGDN spans 15 research sites across the country and includes a wide array of researchers. As part of a new initiative, the organization instated 500 different projects. One of these recent initiatives, was a 5.8 million dollar grant to Geisinger.
This grant will allow researchers to investigate the role of genetics in various neuropsychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism spectrum disorder. Like many areas of healthcare, understanding of genetics in neuropsychiatric disorders has grown in recent years. For instance, doctors are now able to give 40% of children diagnosed with one of these conditions a genetic answer to their illness. That said, there is still so much to learn.
Geisinger will be collaborating with Washington University in St Louis and the University of Washington in Seattle for the project.
Essentially, the researchers aim to better understand how genetics influence wellness and disease. In addition to increased the knowledge, the hope is that this project will help to consolidate and harmonize the data already gathered on the topic. Without a standard way to collect data, the progress that can be made in research is hindered greatly. We cannot afford to be held back when patient lives are at stake.
In their investigation, they will conduct both clinical and genomic evaluations of patient volunteers with various, known neuropsychiatric disorders as well as their families. The hope is that this data provides insight into how clinical care and medical outcomes can be improved for these patient populations. For instance, researchers believe that by utilizing a genomic approach, doctors may be able to better prescribe antidepressants for patients. This means more effective therapies and fewer side effects.
Another positive step that has been made, outside of this investigation, is a choice Geisinger made to make genomic sequencing a standard part of routine clinical care. The hope is that this inclusion will advance precision medicine.
Researchers believe that by including genomic investigation, “virtually all” individuals at high risk of developing certain cancers/cardiac diseases could know early. Equipped with this knowledge, they can better plan their health management. By working with a physician, patients can minimize some of their risk by modifying their lifestyle and engaging in wellness planning.
“Forecasting will allow us to provide truly anticipatory health care instead of the responsive sick care that has long been the industry default across the nation.”
Additionally, last month the NIH announced the implementation of new clinical trials for chronic kidney disease and hypertension. These trials will examine the effect of genomic medicine on disease management (including pain and mental health). Specifically, they will focus on patients of African ancestry. These investigations are a result of the Implementing Genomics in Practice (IGNITE) Network. This network is in its second phase. 42 million dollars is invested in the network, provided over 5 years.
These initiatives have real power to change patient lives. However, researchers know that in order to be the most effective, these initiatives cannot be limited to their own hands. For instance, the standardized data developed by the aforementioned grant, will not be contained by the researchers who first obtain it. The National Institute of Mental Health will be working to make this data available to researchers across the country.
Hopefully, these initiatives will only lead to more projects and studies, ultimately resulting in better care for those with chronic diseases such as chronic kidney disease and hypertension, as well as those who struggle with mental illnesses.
You can read more about all of these initiatives here.