Friday, January 22, 2016

The Future of Mental Health Research?

The Child Mind Institute has taken a novel approach to both community mental health and brain research with the launch of their Center for the Developing Brain, an innovative research and mental health center on Staten Island. It's shaken me from my winter slumber. The Institute links the future of better mental health treatment to better understanding of the brain, specially, biological markers of psychiatric disorders.

In 2015, the Child Mind Institute launched the Healthy Brain Network to pursue a bold goal: to seek out biological markers of mental health disorders in the developing brain. Other fields of medicine have objective tests to diagnose disease, but psychologists and psychiatrists must rely on observation, along with patient and family reports, to identify and treat mental health disorders. Child Mind Institute

 The pursuit of biological markers is not new, at least not in research circles nor at NIMH. But what is so new is how the Child Mind Institute is going about it. Opening up a "state-of-the art" research center. Not as a part of a university-based or hospital-based facility but on their own. Offering free mental health screening and treatment in exchange for brain scans. Reaching families (and research subjects) with a mobile fMRI lab. Yes, a mobile research lab. Their goal is to reach (collect data from) 10,000 kids in 5 years. That's ambitious.

Plus they plan on sharing their data. The researchers will allow other scientists and maybe the public, you and me, to see their data. In other words, they'll practice open science. 

Studies such as the Healthy Brain Network that use large data sets and open science are helping drive a fundamental shift in how research is conducted in developmental neuroscience. "These methods are the only way we can answer the mental health questions we want to ask," says Dr. Craddock. "We can look at similarities and differences between disorders, and find answers to some fundamental questions about brain development." Cameron Craddock, director of imaging at the Center for the Developing Brain. 
It's innovative on several levels. It's not the traditional route to collecting or publishing data. I'm not even sure they plan on pursing peer-reviewed publication. Nor is it the typical funding scenario, as the Institute rakes in many millions at their celebrity-studded fundraisers each year. Their researchers aren't sweating over grants from the NIMH. They have some cash at their disposal. That said, the out-going director of the NIMH is a friend of the Institute. In fact, I heard him speak at an event there in the fall. It's not like the CMI is thumbing it's nose at the NIMH and their research money.

In any event, this isn't another study from another academic research lab. I'll be anxious to watch what happens. No, they're not funding me or asking me to put this out. I'm not even sure what to make of it, the approach is so new. Thoughts?

BTW, this inspires me to collect my own data. If only I had 6.6 million dollars and Hillary Clinton at a big wig fundraiser. How long before I can squeeze an fMRI into the backseat of my car? As it turns out I'm already mobile, very mobile. I could sample all the kids on the basketball team, soccer team, in the middle school chorus, at the high school semi-formal (sorry, just "semi"), in the public library, the birthday parties, the sandwich-making, sign-making, quilt-making community service days....how quick could I get a thousand subjects? Forget the clunky fMRI machine, soon there will be an app for those complicated neuroimaging operations. Then we could all be small brain research centers. I can't wait.

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