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Institute of Living research team selected to join international research effort studying schizophrenia in young people

Hartford Courant - 9/16/2020

A research team at the Institute of Living, a mental health center in the Hartford Healthcare system, will join an international research effort studying schizophrenia in high-risk adolescents and young adults.

The Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center and Advanced Services for Adolescents with Psychosis Program at The Institute of Living will participate in the research, which is supported by a $52-million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, Hartford Healthcare.

The project includes the creation of a Psychosis Risk Outcomes Network at 27 participating institutions, through which researchers will study phenotypes or biomarkers associated with psychosis risk. Research teams will assess whether variation in biomarkers can predict clinical trajectories and identify participants most likely to benefit from specific treatments.

“This large and important award puts the IOL on the map regarding a critical area in psychiatry, which is successfully identifying young individuals at high risk for psychotic illnesses,” Dr. Godfrey Pearlson, MD, director of Olin and one of two co-principal investigators of the study, said in a statement. He added that it is critical to identify people who may develop psychotic illnesses early-on, when the treatment is “more straightforward," just as it is for those at increased risk for heart disease or breast cancer.

The study will have a central data processing and coordination center at Harvard University and a research network centered in Australia. Hospitals participating in the study will recruit more than 1,200 youths as young as 12 years old and analyze existing patient data. According to researchers, 1,000 of the youths will be at risk for developing schizophrenia and three hundred will be healthy controls with no risk for developing schizophrenia.

The researchers will be looking for participants with “subclinical symptoms" -- including hearing voices and having delusions -- which are present enough for family and friends to notice but not severe enough for a schizophrenia diagnosis.

The NIH grant will enable the Institute of Living’s program for adolescents with psychosis to work alongside programs across the world to “to better understand the presenting symptoms and work together to truly reduce the duration of untreated psychosis at the earliest phase," Patricia Graham, a licensed master social worker and co-investigator on the project, said in a statement.

About 3.2% to 7% of young people in the world have early symptoms of schizophrenia or psychosis, according to Hartford Healthcare.

The Institute of Living is located in Hartford and is one of first mental health centers in the United States, and the first hospital of any kind in Connecticut.


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