Skip to navigation Skip to main content Skip to footer

Approved Research

Multimodal subtyping of mental illness across the adult lifespan through integration of multi-scale whole-person phenotypes

Principal Investigator: Dr Daniel Felsky
Approved Research ID: 61530
Approval date: August 24th 2020

Lay summary

In recent years, scientists have begun to realize that mental illnesses affecting people across the adult lifespan (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, addictions, and Alzheimer's disease) are actually made up of multiple "disease subtypes", each with their own distinct set of symptoms and underlying biological causes. For example, a disease like depression may be caused primarily by inflammation in one patient, metabolic problems in a second, hormone imbalances in a third, and stressful life events in a fourth - or, perhaps more likely, some combination of all four of these and more.

Over the next three years and beyond, we will leverage the diversity of data in the UK Biobank to improve psychiatric disorder subtype identification. This is important because it's hard to figure out which therapies are effective for treating mental health conditions when a therapy that works well for one subtype doesn't work for the other subtypes. Also, psychiatric diseases tend to overlap so much that a drug that treats one subtype of, say, bipolar disorder, may also work for a particular subtype of depression  - but maybe not for the other depression subtypes. So being able to figure out what subtype of depression a patient has might help doctors decide whether or not to use the bipolar drug for that patient. Besides the direct potential treatment implications, knowing more about the biological differences between subtypes - and in particular how problems with individual neurons relate to problems with overall brain structure and function, and how both relate to particular sets of psychiatric symptoms - should help further fundamental research into these devastating diseases.