Tests may aid men­tal ill­ness drugs

Hop­kins part of ef­fort to use stem cells to as­sess new treat­ments for dis­or­ders

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Mered­ith Cohn mered­ith.cohn@balt­sun.com

Doc­tors say there aren’t enough good op­tions for treat­ing pa­tients with schizophre­nia and bipo­lar disor­der, but a new col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween sci­en­tists at sev­eral in­sti­tu­tions and a pair of drug com­pa­nies could lead to ad­di­tional, and more ef­fec­tive, med­i­ca­tions in com­ing years.

Re­searchers from the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine and the Salk In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies in San Diego will lead the ef­fort to build a stem cell-based method of as­sess­ing drugs for the wide­spread men­tal health dis­or­ders.

The project will be funded by a $15.4 mil­lion grant from a pro­gram at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Men­tal Health cre­ated in 2013 to pro­mote such col­lab­o­ra­tions.

The type of stem cells that will be used in the re­search, called in­duced pluripo­tent stem cells, are typ­i­cally taken from peo­ple’s skin or blood and made to be­have like brand-new hu­man cells that can grow into any type of cell.

In this case, the cells will be taken from 50 vol­un­teers with the dis­or­ders and turned into nerve cells that can be tested in the lab to show sci­en­tists how dif­fer­ent drugs af­fect them. The re­searchers say the process will be stan­dard­ized so oth­ers can grow stem cells and test drugs in the same way.

“There has been a bot­tle­neck in stem cell re­search,” Hongjun Song, a Hop­kins pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­ogy and neu­ro­science, said in a state­ment. “Ev­ery lab uses dif­fer­ent pro­to­cols and cells from dif­fer­ent pa­tients, so it’s re­ally hard to com­pare re­sults. This col­lab­o­ra­tion gath­ers the re­sources needed to cre­ate ro­bust, re­pro­ducible tests that can be used to de­velop new drugs for men­tal health dis­or­ders.”

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans suf­fer from schizophre­nia or bipo­lar disor­der.

Usu­ally di­ag­nosed in young adults, schizophre­nia af­fects how a per­son thinks, feels and be­haves. Those who suf­fer from it have trou­ble think­ing ra­tio­nally and manag- ing so­cial be­hav­ior. It is a chronic and se­vere disor­der and can be very dis­abling, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Men­tal Health. It af­fects about 3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, and cur­rent treat­ments only tar­get symp­toms.

Bipo­lar disor­der, also called man­icde­pres­sive disor­der, af­fects more than 5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans. Ex­ist­ing treat­ments only help the de­pres­sive or manic swings, but not both.

Dr. Scott Aaron­son, a psy­chi­a­trist and di­rec­tor of clin­i­cal re­search for the Shep­pard Pratt Health Sys­tem, the state’s largest provider of men­tal health ser­vices, said that while new treat­ments are not on the im­me­di­ate hori­zon, the ef­fort cre­ates a means to iden­tify pos­si­ble med­i­ca­tions that doesn’t now ex­ist.

Aaron­son, who is not in­volved in the new col­lab­o­ra­tion, said most drugs for schizophre­nia and bipo­lar disor­der were not found on pur­pose or be­cause sci­en­tists un­der­stood the un­der­ly­ing pathol­ogy of the ill­nesses. This ap­proach will al­low the sci­en­tists to see the drugs in ac­tion on hu­man cells, cre­at­ing a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to find more ef­fec­tive med­i­ca­tions.

And be­cause they are stan­dard­iz­ing the way the stem cells are made and used, other re­searchers will be able to build on the work.

“Now we have be­tween a third and a half of peo­ple sub-op­ti­mally treated be­cause the med­i­ca­tions may only treat a part of the pa­tient pop­u­la­tion,” Aaron­son said. “The other prob­lem is we think of bipo­lar disor­der as a disor­der, but it’s re­ally dis­or­ders, plu­ral.

“There can be many dys­func­tion­ing genes, mean­ing the ill­ness is dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent peo­ple and the drugs may not work.”

Aaron­son said he’s work­ing on dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of ex­ist­ing drugs to treat pa­tients. New drugs, he said, are crit­i­cal.

In ad­di­tion to Hop­kins and Salk, the col­lab­o­ra­tion in­cludes the Univer­sity of Michi­gan; San­ford Burn­ham Pre­bys Med­i­cal Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute, a non­profit re­search out­fit; Janssen Re­search & De­vel­op­ment, a re­search arm of a John­son & John­son phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany; and Cel­lu­lar Dy­nam­ics In­ter­na­tional, a man­u­fac­turer of stem cells.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.