New international initiative to study early-life predictors of mental health disorders

McGill–Douglas–Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry International Collaborative Initiative in Adversity and Mental Health

May 12, 2021

The newly established McGill–Douglas–Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry International Collaborative Initiative in Adversity and Mental Health represents the first international effort devoted to understanding the biology behind how early-life adversity can increase the risk of psychiatric disorders over the course of an individual’s life. Led by Dr. Gustavo Turecki, Scientific Director at the Douglas Research Centre and Chair of McGill’s Department of Psychiatry, and by Dr. Elisabeth Binder, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany and head of the Department of Translational Research in Psychiatry. The core aim of this five-year, $5M initiative is to discover the biological causes of mental illness and, in turn, improve prevention and treatment options available to the public. McGill University, through Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives, and the Max Planck Society will contribute equally to support the initiative.

Events during a person’s early life can have a significant impact on future brain and behavioural development, and exposure to negative events during childhood, or even before birth, contribute to the development of mental illness later in life. Childhood stressors such as abuse, neglect or loss of a parent are commonly associated with increased likelihood of mood and anxiety disorders. Since psychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide, our health systems must improve prevention and treatment strategies to reduce this burden on society. Research into the connections between early-life adversity and negative mental health outcomes can help achieve this goal.

“The early-life environment has a tremendous influence on how we develop our behaviour and emotions,” explained Dr. Turecki, the leading partner for Douglas—McGill University. “This international initiative involving the Douglas and Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry will facilitate excellent science and help to create a joint training program to help educate tomorrow’s leaders in this important area of research.”

The initiative will offer an important platform for scientists to conduct joint research and training, and share unique resources, including big data sets and facilities for conducting research with animal and human populations. Working together across continents, the research teams are enthusiastic about the opportunity to play a key role in advancing global mental health research.

Dr. Binder, the leading partner for the Max Planck Society, stressed the importance of international cooperation to advance research: “Psychiatric disorders are complex and scientists around the world need to come together to achieve progress. The initiative is an important step in this direction and I’m excited to be involved.”

Source: McGill Douglas

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