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New Program Aims to Combine Genetics With Brain Imaging to Personalize Treatment For Mental Illness and Addictions

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(Great Neck, N.Y. - July 15, 2009) — NARSAD Scientific Council member and four-time NARSAD grant recipient James L. Kennedy, M.D., is co-directing a program called neuroIMAGENE, launched this month at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), that will combine genetics and brain imaging in a unique initiative to advance treatment for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and addictions.

Dr. Kennedy and his colleagues are working to create tools with which to identify the medication that will best fit an individual’s unique brain chemistry and genetic risk factors. Such personalized treatment should help to avoid trial-and-error prescribing, treatment failure, relapse and serious side effects. The scientists also hope to identify genetic targets that can be used to develop new, more specific, more effective medications. An official at the organization describes CAMH as the only research enterprise extant that can compare DNA characteristics across 18 different psychiatric conditions.

The first year after diagnosis is crucial in the treatment of an illness like schizophrenia, stated Sylvain Houle, M.D., Ph.D., co-leader with Dr. Kennedy of neuroIMAGENE. “If the first medication causes side effects such as diabetes or tardive dyskinesia [a parkinson-like side effect], that is just one more barrier for the individual to overcome.”

Dr. Kennedy added that side effects or lack of response can be a strong disincentive to continuing with treatment, which is why a patient has a better chance for a stable and successful long-term outcome the sooner the right medication can be identified. The potential of the new program is to greatly increase the ability to choose the best medication for a given individual and more precisely determine the starting dose, he explained, adding that “It is hard to overstate what a powerful tool this research initiative could be in preventing relapse and the burden that can involve.”

The neuroIMAGENE program is being supported by a $2.8 million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), matched by the Ontario government for a total of up to $7 million.

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