Dr. Jeff Mitchell, Medical Director for Laureate, explains, “Genetic research at Laureate is currently targeted to three areas of study – eating disorders, chemical dependency and depression. We hope to answer some basic questions – Are there genetic markers that can help us make a better diagnosis? Are there markers that can distinguish sub-types of illness that can help predict outcomes with certain treatments or treatment combinations? Can understanding the genetic mechanism help doctors better understand the biological changes in the brain that can lead to better treatments? And finally, what components to the illness are inherited – for example, most experts don’t believe you inherit depression or chemical dependency the way you inherit blue eyes. They believe you inherit factors that make you vulnerable for the disease – for example some people may inherit a different metabolism of alcohol that may make them more vulnerable to alcoholism than others.”
Other studies at Laureate are examining new medications under investigation, and new technologies that may lead to treatment advances for particular diseases. One of these is Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS). This new technology involves implanting a very small electrode to stimulate an area of the brain in patients with treatment resistant depression. Similar to a pacemaker in the heart, the VNS helps generate appropriate stimuli in the brain. Neuro-imaging is also being studied to determine its benefit in mapping and better understanding the brain of a mentally ill patient.
Dr. Mitchell believes pharmaceutical study and genetic study may lead to a multitude of treatment advances including a better understanding of how medications currently available may be better used based on a person’s genetics. He also has high hopes for technological advancements that help further the understanding of mental illnesses as illnesses requiring medical treatment just as diabetes or heart disease would.