Early Detection, Early Impact in Mental Health

Mar 13, 2018
Carolyn Morris

Three new research projects are moving forward with funds from the 2017 Miner’s Lamp Award dinner — a partnership between IAMGOLD Corporation and U of T’s Department of Psychiatry, which raises funds for mental health research. 

The projects include examining cardiovascular ties to early-onsetMiner's lamp funding receipientsU OF T PSYCHIATRY PROFESSORS BENJAMIN GOLDSTEIN, MICHAEL KIANG AND NATHAN KOLLA bipolar disorder, uncovering potential early warning signs related to schizophrenia risk, and detection of aggression in psychosis. The goal is to detect early signs of mental illness to prevent their onset.

Last year’s event featured Sophie Grégoire Trudeau as a speaker and raised $600,000, bringing the total funds raised through the partnership to $1 million. This year’s event will be held later this month.  

Here are the latest projects to receive support:

Examining cardiovascular ties to early-onset bipolar disorder

Heart disease occurs much earlier and more frequently among people with bipolar disorder, which is why U of T Psychiatry Professor Benjamin Goldstein (featured left in photo) wants to know what role, if any, abnormalities in tiny blood vessels throughout the brain and body play in the underlying cause of bipolar disorder.

Goldstein, who is also a senior scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute, plans to examine tiny microvessels of 140 adolescents — 70 with bipolar disorder, 35 whose parents have bipolar disorder and 35 with no personal or family history of the disorder.

He hopes to connect dots between these two conditions, by using multiple innovative measures, including magnetic resonance imaging of the brain and heart, and photographs of the eye’s retina.

This work could help uncover new targets in preventing early-onset bipolar disorder.

Sound and Psychosis: Is Auditory Processing a Sign of Psychosis Risk?

Professor Michael Kiang uses cognitive neuroscience methods, including brainwave recordings, to shine light on the physiological basis of mental disorders.

One brainwave measure that’s been found to be diminished in schizophrenia patients is what’s called auditory steady-state response — a measure of our brain’s basic processing of sounds.

Kiang, a clinician scientist and psychiatrist at U of T and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), suspects that this specific sound-related brainwave measure could help determine schizophrenia risk — narrowing down the relatively large group of people considered at high risk for psychotic disorder.

He hopes the study will lay the groundwork for a practical prognostic test, enabling researchers to target treatment trials toward those at greatest risk of developing schizophrenia.

Early Detection of Aggression in Psychosis: Brain Scanning

Using powerful brain scanning technology, U of T Psychiatry Professor and CAMH clinician-scientist Nathan Kolla, is setting out to understand what aggression looks like in the brain.

While most schizophrenia does not involve violent behaviour, cases where psychosis is paired with aggressive behaviour can be especially concerning. If we could pinpoint specific biomarkers in the brain that are related to aggression, we might be able to identify risk of violence before it happens.

Kolla, who is also Vice President of Research and Academics at Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care, plans to recruit several groups of patients with different combinations of schizophrenia and aggression (ie. with and without prior conduct disorder), as well as a healthy control group, to complete cognitive tasks and brain games while undergoing comprehensive brain scans.

This article originally appeared on the Faculty of Medicine News.