Wellcome grants €1.3 million to RCSI to further develop prognostic blood test for psychotic disorders

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has received a €1.3 million grant from Wellcome to further develop a blood test that can predict whether a person is likely to develop a psychotic disorder years later.

The researchers had previously analysed blood samples taken from people at clinical high risk of psychosis. These individuals were followed up for several years to see who did and did not develop a psychotic disorder.

After assessing the proteins in blood samples and using machine learning to analyse this data, the scientists were able to find patterns of proteins in the early blood samples that could predict who did and did not develop a psychotic disorder at follow-up.

The most accurate test was based on the 10 most predictive proteins. It correctly identified those who would go on to develop a psychotic disorder in 93% of high-risk cases, and it correctly identified those who would not in 80% of cases.

The grant will now enable the researchers to determine if this test is similarly accurate at predicting who will develop a psychotic disorder from other international groups of clinical high risk individuals. The ultimate goal is to develop a commercially-available test for use in clinical practice so people can be treated earlier and more effectively.

“Wellcome’s support will enable us to further expand our research and directly benefit patients,” said Professor David Cotter, a professor of molecular psychiatry at RCSI, consultant psychiatrist in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin and investigator at FutureNeuro, the SFI research centre for chronic and rare neurological diseases.

“Ideally, we would like to prevent psychotic disorders, but that requires being able to accurately identify who is most at risk. This grant will allow us to study these markers in other people at high risk of psychosis to confirm our previous findings.”

The work builds on a patent previously filed by the researchers, and this grant marks a key step in commercialising the test.

“I would like to congratulate Professor Cotter and his team as well as thank Wellcome for awarding RCSI this grant,” said Professor Fergal O’Brien, Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI.

“The funding will be instrumental in carrying out a core mission of RCSI research – translating research from the laboratory directly to the patient. I look forward to seeing this research forge new paths in psychiatric care.”

The grant comes from Wellcome’s Psychosis Flagship, which aims to reduce the global burden of psychosis by improving diagnosis, maximising the impact of early treatment and by developing novel, targeted interventions.

On this project, RCSI will collaborate with researchers from the UCD Conway Institute and from Cardiff University. Other collaborators include those from the University of Melbourne, Yale University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Bristol, Trinity College Dublin and Kings College London.

“Identifying individuals who are most at risk of developing psychosis is a key challenge in the field. Overcoming this could enable early interventions that will help improve outcomes for patients, which is the vision of Wellcome’s Psychosis Flagship,” said Dr Lynsey Bilsland, Deputy Head of Programme, Translation & Portfolio Integration at Wellcome.


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