The development of biomedical research tools involving neuroimaging, proteomic, and genetic technologies has provided the means to advance understanding regarding the pathophysiology and etiology of neuropsychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, the amount of funding devoted to research aimed at bringing these technologies to bear in studies of psychiatric illness has been vastly lower than for research involving other categories of medical disease on a per-patient basis. Moreover, even as the amount of federal funding available for research has begun to decline in inflation-adjusted dollars, the disparities extant between funds spent on a per-patient basis for psychiatric disorders versus for other types of medical illness have widened rather than narrowed.
These limitations related to funding are compounded by the recent recognition that studies of psychiatric illness must become larger in scope with respect both to numbers of patients entered and to durations of time over which patients are followed. This recognition has grown partly out of recent advances in genetics, as it appears many of the neuropsychiatric disorders are caused by complex interactions between genetic variation and environmental factors that collectively alter the function of gene systems or signaling pathways that thus far remain unidentified. These observations raise the importance of research involving neuroimaging measures and other types of biomarkers that can identify the neural systems affected in common across individuals manifesting individual psychiatric disorders and can define the functional consequences of genetic risk factors for disease.
Recognizing this research opportunity and need, the W. K. Warren Foundation, having held a long interest in neuropsychiatric disease, pledged significant financial support toward the long-term, prospective study of neuropsychiatric disorders. In 2009 the Warren Foundation initiated the Laureate Institute of Brain Research (LIBR) in which potential biomarkers, including genetic sampling and neuroimaging studies of groups defined by partitioning of clinical phenotypes would be added to the longitudinal clinical studies to expand knowledge about the underlying pathogenetic features of mental disorders. The Foundation’s funding has provided a research facility that includes a state of the art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) center and an extensive computing network.
To address the complexity of neuroscience research, guiding principles in the development of LIBR have been to emphasize multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional involvement, as well as to gather young, proven talent from diverse fields, who share a common vision and are committed to interacting in collaborative research. LIBR presently has nearly 40 full-time scientific, clinical, or administrative faculty and staff. In addition, the LIBR program catalyzed the formation of a “Quadrangle of Neuroscience Research”, which brought together researchers from Tulsa University (TU), Oklahoma University School of Community Medicine (OUSCM) and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), all of which have made commitments of individual and collaborative research activities, into a consortium arrangement. The studies undertaken by this consortium will facilitate the dissection of specific neuropsychiatric diseases and their related genetic or environmental influences that dictate responses to unique pharmacological or psychological therapies. The consortium already has active collaborative relationships with TU’s highly ranked Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, which also includes a new Institute of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (IBCB), and training relationships for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows with OUSCM, which is expanding as an academic medical center that will emphasize clinical neuroscience as an overarching research activity. Finally, OMRF has become an outstanding biomedical research institution capable of basic science studies of the complex molecular genetics of human disease and animal models of human disease, as well as studies related to drug-design, pharmacokinetics and targeted gene disruption. Scientists at LIBR also have established highly fruitful research collaborations with geneticists, neuropsychologists, neurobiologists, and imaging scientists at the National Institutes of Health, Cambridge University, and Washington University. Working together we and our collaborators aim to leverage scientific discovery as the means to help persons throughout the world who suffer from neuropsychiatric illness.
GE Pulse Magazine