Georgia State Researcher Receives $4 Million Grant To Use Brain Imaging, Genomic Data To Better Predict Mental Health Disorders

ATLANTA-Vince Calhoun, Distinguished University Professor of Psychology at Georgia State University and director of the Center for Translational Research in Neuroimaging and Data Science (TReNDS), has received nearly $4 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health to develop new models that use brain imaging and genomic data to better predict mental health disorders.

Most mood and psychosis disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder, lack biomarkers that healthcare experts can use for diagnosis. Psychiatrists can’t see evidence of depression, for example, on an X-ray or a blood test. Symptoms and contributing risk factors of mental health disorders are also highly variable and diverse. The disorders are influenced a number of interrelated genetic factors and environmental factors, such as stress.

Analyzing a patient’s genetics and brain activity could provide a better mode of diagnosis. However, brain imaging data and genomic data are high dimensional, meaning the number of data points is so large it makes calculations very difficult, and include complex relationships that are poorly understood.

Calhoun and his team plan to develop novel algorithms that can better capture dynamic brain imaging and genomics data, and apply those algorithms to study individuals with mood and psychosis disorders. The team will compare the accuracy of two approaches to mental health diagnosis-the standard diagnostic category approach, in which clinicians use a checklist of symptoms to assign a diagnosis, and a data-driven approach, in which experts analyze brain data to determine a diagnosis. They will also analyze the accuracy of a dimensional approach to diagnosis, which places patients along a spectrum based on the degree of symptoms.

“Mood disorders and psychosis disorders are incredibly complex and variable, with a range of underlying causes,” Calhoun said. “Two people may have the same diagnosis without sharing symptoms-or have the same symptoms with different diagnoses. There is also growing consensus that we should approach mental illness as a continuum, rather than slotting patients into an all-or-nothing category.”

Calhoun is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Brain Health & Image Analysis. He has brought a number of ongoing National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation grant awards to the university, totaling more than $18 million.

TReNDS is a tri-institutional center supported by Georgia State, the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University. The center is focused on making better use of complex brain imaging data through improved analysis, with a goal of identifying biomarkers that can help address brain health and disease.

An abstract of the grant, 1R01MH118695-01A1, is available at the NIH Project RePORTer website.

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