The ProNET project aims to test whether data-driven variation in biomarkers can be used to predict individual clinical trajectories and select individual patients most likely to benefit from specific treatments. The Department of Psychiatry’s Diana Perkins, MD, MPH, is the UNC principal investigator for ProNET.
Schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders emerge during late adolescence and early adulthood, ultimately affecting ~1% of the population. Schizophrenia is chronic and disabling, with current treatments palliative. With an ultimate aim of developing preventative treatments, researchers with the University of North Carolina Department of Psychiatry will participate in an international investigation to better understand the cause and effect of schizophrenia in adolescents and young adults at high-risk for psychosis.
The research will be funded by a $52 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Diana Perkins, MD, MPH, Professor of Psychiatry is the UNC principal investigator for ProNET. In addition to serving as a clinical site PI, she is also the scientific director of the project’s Genetics and Body Fluids core. Other UNC School of Medicine investigators include Aysenil Belger, PhD, and Xiaopeng Zong, PhD.
Scott Woods, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and in the Child Study Center at Yale, is the lead principal investigator along with researchers Carrie E. Bearden from UCLA and John M. Kane from Zucker School of Medicine.
The grant will fund the development of the Psychosis Risk Outcomes Network, or ProNET. The consortium will be based at 27 institutions, where investigators will characterize phenotypes associated with clinical high risk (CHR) or prodrome state of schizophrenia in adolescents and young adults.
Investigators will recruit 1,040 patients with CHR and follow them with clinical and biomarker assessments, including brain structure and function, psychopathology and cognition, genetics, blood biomarkers, behavior, and natural language and speech, over two years. Two hundred sixty healthy controls will also be assessed at baseline. In conjunction with a Data Processing, Analysis, and Coordinating Center at Harvard, a network centered in Australia, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health’s Accelerating Medicines Partnership for Schizophrenia, ProNET will test whether data-driven variation in these biomarkers can be used to predict individual clinical trajectories and select individual patients most likely to benefit from specific treatments.
While current treatments effectively address psychotic symptoms they are not a cure, and for most must be taken life-long, a difficult commitment for most people, and especially hard for adolescents and young adults. We are in desperate need for preventative strategies. The findings from this project may also point the path to a cure for the many millions of people already affected by schizophrenia.
The grant is a component of NIH’s launch of a new public-private partnership to meet the urgent need for early therapeutic interventions for people at risk of developing schizophrenia. Part of the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), AMP Schizophrenia brings together NIH, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and multiple non-profit and private organizations, including Yale.
These partners will work toward the shared mission of discovering promising biological markers that can help identify those at risk of developing schizophrenia as early as possible, track the progression of symptoms and other outcomes and define targets for treatment development.
“We know that with most brain diseases, early interventions before the onset of symptoms improve long-term outcomes,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “Through research we’ve identified clinical and biological markers for schizophrenia, but we need to translate this knowledge into early interventions to make a meaningful difference in the lives of people at risk for this debilitating disease. AMP Schizophrenia aims to be that bridge.”
This research is supported by the National Institute Of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U01MH124639. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.