Summary Project

Psych-Aid is a seventh framework programme, Marie-Curie, the people programme (IAPP), funded by the EU

The concept of the project is that  mood disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders in Europe, with an approximately 15% lifetime incidence and with 4% of the population being diagnosed with major depression in the previous 12 months. The depressive disorders contribute 11% of the global years live with disability (Paykel 2005). Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder affecting approximately 1% of the population. After depressive disorders, schizophrenia accounts for the highest medical expenses in the treatment of psychiatric diseases (Figures for the Netherlands; Polder, 2002). Schizophrenia (SZ), bipolar disorder (BD) and major depressive disorder (MDD) are associated with serious consequences such as a negative impact on social and occupational functioning, decrease of quality of life and a high rate of suicide.

Many patients with SZ, MDD or BD remain unrecognised or have received incorrect diagnoses, such as unipolar depression (MDD) in the case of BD, or are only diagnosed years after illness onset. The recognition rate of depressive disorders in primary care settings varies from 20% to 55% in Europe (Paykel 2005). The main reason for this is that the current diagnosis of SZ, MDD and BD is highly subjective, not only because of the complex spectrum of symptoms and their overlap with other mental disorders, but also due to the lack of empirical markers or objective tests specific for these diseases. Thus an objective test that uses molecular analytes for identification of the disorders in an early stage is a necessity for progress to be made.

The available therapeutic regimes are aimed largely at relieving symptoms and work best at slowing or halting the underlying disease progression in early stage or for less severe cases, making early and accurate diagnosis essential. Moreover only 30-50% of patients respond to treatment and at present it takes up to 6 weeks to determine if a patient is responding to treatment. Thus an objective blood-based molecular test that recognizes the disorders would also be ideal for identifying those patients that respond to a particular treatment (“personalized medicine”).

At present, little is known about the basic molecular mechanisms that underlie the disease processes of SZ, BD and MDD, hindering the development of empirical objective markers. This lack of knowledge is partly due to the fact that until recently global expression profiling studies for pathogenic genes/ molecules were technologically impossible. Thus, most researchers employed a “candidate gene” approach which is equivalent to looking for a “needle in a haystack”.

The Psych-Aid project builds on two FP7-funded projects MOODINFLAME

and SchizDX,

The researchers will be able to make use of each other‟s sample cohorts (greater sample number), making the tests more specific and reliable. Also, the partners will be able to validate the diagnostic markers in multiple clinical centres and patients cohorts. Because it is unlikely that one single biomarker can reliably distinguish between case subjects and controls, it is foreseen that markers developed in different domains will be combined into one highly selective and sensitive diagnostic assay panel. PSYCH-AID will result in identification of critically-needed diagnostic biomarkers for the psychiatric disorders BD, MDD and SZ.

The strategic objective of PSYCH-AID is to build up the largest, long-lasting, intersectoral, integrative academia-industry consortium in Europe (and the world) for developing empirical immuno-neuro-endocrine markers and objective diagnostic and prognostic blood tests for psychiatric disorders, based on an integral approach of transcriptomics, proteomics and biochemistry.

PSYCH-AID‟s scientific objective is to identify, mutually correlate and validate empirical immuno-neuro-endocrine markers for the diagnosis and prognosis of BD, MDD and SZ.