On the second day (Friday, October 18) of the XXIst World Congress of Psychiatric Genetics meeting in Boston, Alexander Niculesca, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine, described his group’s ground-breaking work in identifying and validating blood biomarkers for suicidal behavior, in particular the identification of a panel of six markers whose levels in the blood can help predict the risk of future hospitalizations for suicide. Dr. Niculesca emphasized the significance of these findings by noting that one million people die each year from suicide and that someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. Furthermore, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is a major component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, sperm, testicles, and retina, can be used in the diet to reduce the suicide risk in some at-risk patients. Consequently, the ability to identify patients at high risk of suicide through simple blood tests has the potential to save lives. The most powerful predictor of the six markers in the panel was the protein coded for by the gene SAT1. SAT1 codes for the rate-limiting enzyme in the catabolic pathway of polyamine metabolism. Dr. Niculesca’s work is an example of the use of a comprehensive convergent functional genomics approach to identify risk-related genes. The results of this work were published online on August 20, 2013 in an open-access article in Molecular Psychiatry. Following Dr. Niculescu’s talk, Rakesh Karmacharya, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, described the use of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells that were differentiated to neuronal cells in order to look for cellular signatures of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder in patient-derived cells.
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