Scientists awarded $52M NIH grant to study schizophrenia cause and effect

UCLA's Carrie Bearden will lead a research team alongside colleagues at Yale and Zucker School of Medicine
Carrie Bearden, PhD
Carrie Bearden, PhD

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UCLA researchers and their colleagues from two other institutions have been awarded a $52 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to lead an international study to better understand the cause and effect of schizophrenia in high-risk youth.

The research will be funded over a five-year period. Carrie Bearden, PhD, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, will lead the team together with Scott Woods, MD, professor of psychiatry at Yale University, and John Kane from Zucker School of Medicine.

The grant will fund the development of the Psychosis Risk Outcomes Network (ProNET). The consortium will be based at 27 institutions, where investigators will characterize phenotypes or sets of observable characteristics associated with clinical high risk (CHR) of schizophrenia in adolescents and young adults. CHR has been increasingly recognized as a public health problem affecting youth.

The development of treatments for adolescents and young adults at clinical high risk for schizophrenia has been hindered by the substantial variation in symptoms that present in patients when they are first diagnosed and over time.

The goal of the study is to develop biomarkers and clinical assessments that may lead to better treatments and improve early intervention in high-risk youths.

"We have seen the incredible potential of early intervention for youth at high risk for psychosis," Bearden said. "This project will be a major step forward for identifying optimal treatments for specific individuals, in specific developmental periods."

Investigators will recruit 1,040 patients with CHR and follow them with clinical and biomarker assessments, evaluating brain structure and function, psychopathology and cognition, genetics, behavior, and natural language and speech over two years. Two hundred sixty healthy controls will also be assessed at the start of the study. In conjunction with a Data Processing, Analysis, and Coordinating Center at Harvard, a network centered in Australia, and an additional public-private partnership that will include companies from the pharmaceutical industry, ProNET will test whether data-driven variation in these biomarkers can be used to predict individual clinical trajectories and select individual patients most likely to benefit from specific treatments.

Bearden is director of the UCLA Center for the Assessment and Prevention of Prodromal States. She will be assisted by UCLA colleagues Jennifer Forsyth, PhD, in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, who will lead EEG data acquisition, and Katie Karlsgodt PhD, in the departments of psychology and psychiatry, who will lead neuroimaging acquisition.