Unique study designed to identify biomarkers for mental disorders

Better diagnosis means better treatment

May 28, 2018

Psychiatrists diagnose disorders on the basis of their patient’s description. In contrast to other physicians, they cannot justify their diagnosis with X-rays, blood test results or temperature curves. Within the scope of a new, broad-based study, the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry (MPI) wants to identify biomarkers, which will help to better diagnose psychiatric illnesses.

The BeCOME study (standing for Biological Classification of Mental Disorders) will shed light on whether and which objectively gained data can provide additional evidence on mental disorders. Behind this lies the belief that diagnoses have been far too inaccurate up until now. “There is not “the” depression or “the” schizophrenia but there are various forms,” explains Elisabeth Binder, head of the study and director of the MPI. “In order to be able to treat patients in a more targeted manner, we first have to be able to diagnose them better,” she concludes.   

Scientists and physicians at the MPI will gather genetic and epigenetic information for the study and measure various body parameters and brain functions. A core part of the BeCOME study design is the measurement of certain brain processes: Using magnetic resonance imaging, experts will be able to gain insight into the brain’s structure and function. In addition, blood tests will provide molecular markers. Participants will take part in neuropsychological tests on a computer or in conversation with a therapist. These tests will provide insights into memory performance, attention and cognitive flexibility. Besides eye-tracking and measuring skin conductance, the psychophysiological tests will also include pupillometry, the measurement of the pupil reaction to a light stimulus.  These results might also be indicators for mental disorders.

Participants wanted

Patients with depression and anxiety who are not taking psychotropic drugs at present can participate in the study as well as healthy volunteers. In doing so, not only will they support science, but they will get a lot of information about their physiology and gain insight into their brain in the truest sense of the word.

“Owing to its broad spectrum, our novel approach is the first of its kind worldwide and is based on the most recent scientific findings,” emphasizes Martin Keck, head physician and head of the MPI hospital.

Such studies are only possible through the special combination of expertise from many biomedical fields and access to the latest technologies. Due to its close connection between research and clinical work, the MPI is an ideal center for carrying out such complex studies that aim to develop new treatments for mental disorders.  


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