Science + Technology

Semel Institute awarded $15M to establish new integrative phenotyping center

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The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA has been awarded $14.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to establish a center dedicated to interdisciplinary research on the role of genetic and environmental factors in neuropsychiatric and behavioral disorders.
 
The new Integrative Phenotyping Center for Neuropsychiatry (IPCN) will provide a dynamic environment for faculty and trainees engaged in studies that have direct implications for the understanding, prevention and treatment of disorders of the brain and behavior, and for the development of good health practice.
 
The grant award from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, will be used to renovate three floors of the existing Semel Institute tower, creating a flexible, 33,000-square-foot space featuring an environmentally sustainable design and state-of-the-art communications and data flow. The center will house some 180 investigators and trainees when completed.
 
The IPCN will facilitate a wide range of current and novel interdisciplinary research programs, and its scientific agenda will span multiple syndromes impacting all age groups, including conditions such as autism, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Collectively, these disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and are considered by the World Health Organization to represent the greatest burden of disease worldwide.
 
Planning and design for the new space has been spearheaded by Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute, together with Dr. Nelson Freimer and Robert Bilder, both professors of psychiatry within the Semel Institute.
 
"We are honored to have received this award," Whybrow said. "The concept of the IPCN reflects the bold new vision for research on brain and behavior that lies at the core of achieving the Semel Institute's scientific goals for the 21st century.
 
"Our objectives include elucidating the interplay between the genetic and environmental elements that influence the risk for neuropsychiatric disease, eroding the ignorance that continues to stigmatize mental illness, and identifying and promoting those behaviors necessary to initiate a personalized approach to neuropsychiatric medicine and recovery."
 
Closely aligned with these aims is the Semel Institute's emphasis on advancing behavioral health that can prevent an even wider range of biomedical illnesses.
 
The IPCN will focus on phenotyping — the phenotype is the biological and behavioral expression of an individual's genetic makeup, or genotype — which will complement the institute's existing strengths in genetics.
 
New technologies already are enabling analysis of human genetic material with breathtaking speed and scope. To harness these advances and to generate breakthroughs in understanding the genetic bases of behavioral disorders now demands larger and more comprehensive studies of the phenotypes that underlie the existing diagnostic descriptions of illnesses.
 
To that end, the IPCN facility will enable large-scale phenotyping studies, including studies of personality, cognition, and brain activity and structure, and will promote the training of new investigators in these techniques.
 
The design process for the new center is already underway. Construction is expected to begin in 2011, with occupancy in late 2012.
 
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior is an interdisciplinary research and education institute devoted to the understanding of complex human behavior, including the genetic, biological, behavioral and sociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior, and the causes and consequences of neuropsychiatric disorders. In addition to conducting fundamental research, the institute faculty seeks to develop effective strategies for prevention and treatment of neurological, psychiatric and behavioral disorder, including improvement in access to mental health services and the shaping of national health policy.
 
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