Mental Health
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On Monday, Columbia University launched the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Center for Precision Psychiatry and Mental Health which will focus on clinical implementation of precision medicine for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness. Initial funding to establish the center comes via a $75 million grant from the international philanthropic organization SNF as part of its Global Health Initiative.

The center will be built from a joint effort of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) and Columbia’s Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute and will also tap the expertise of the New York Genome Center and the New York State Office of Mental Health.

“The insights provided by genomics and precision medicine are proving of tremendous value in improving people’s health and lives,” said Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger. “Through this new center, our researchers will meet an urgent human need by harnessing precision medicine to promote mental health for all. We are enormously grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for joining with Columbia in meeting this profound scientific and humanitarian challenge.”

Columbia is a leading research center for identifying and leveraging the changes in an individual’s genomic, biologic, and health data to better understand the causes of severe mental illness. The center intends to greatly expand Columbia’s leadership in this area by taking a big data approach that collects large datasets of both genomic sequences and longitudinal medical records. Through this effort the center will seek to rapidly translate scientific findings of new therapeutic and preventive approaches to mental health.

The center will be co-directed by Sander Markx, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) and director of the Center for Precision Neuropsychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute; Steven A. Kushner, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at VP&S and a principal investigator at the New York State Psychiatric Institute; and Joseph Gogos, MD, PhD, professor of physiology and cellular biophysics, neuroscience, and psychiatry at VP&S and a principal investigator at Columbia’s Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute.

In a joint statement announcing the launch and their collective vision for the center, the co-directors said: “With this extraordinary support from SNF, we are poised to build on the accelerating progress in psychiatric genomics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and stem cell biology to revolutionize the treatment of mental illness. Through this new understanding, we are fundamentally committed to helping combat stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illness and realizing improved mental health care for all.”

One of the early major projects of the SNF Center is the Genomic Medicine for Mental Health Advancement (GeMMA) initiative, which is being conducted in collaboration with the New York Genome Center (NYGC).

“The GeMMA initiative will not only provide essential information for individual patients, it will also build upon and expand pioneering work at Columbia University central to establishing ‘causal’ relationships between genetic variation and brain function, which is a critical step in the development of new approaches to diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness,” said Tom Maniatis, PhD, director and CEO of the NYGC and professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia.

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