CNP: Press Release
The Hypothesis Web
September 6, 2007
Contact: Mark Wheeler
UCLA News Release:
$22.5 Million to Explore the Fundamental Biology of Mental Disorders
The National Institutes of Health has awarded $22.5 million to a team
of scientists centered at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and
Human Behavior at UCLA to fund the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric
Phenomics (CNP), an interdisciplinary, campuswide effort to understand
the biology underlying a variety of mental disorders.
Phenomics is the study of an organism's full complement of phenotypes
those manifest characteristics, ranging from single proteins to
anatomical traits and complex behaviors, that result from the
organism's genetic makeup and environment, said Robert Bilder, UCLA
professor of psychiatry and director of the new consortium.
Understanding an organism's phenotype is the next logical step
following the recent decoding the human genome. That decoding effort,
which discerned the DNA sequences that form the basic instructions for
biological processes, was designed to enable the identification of
genetic variations responsible for the major diseases that plague
Phenomics takes a more "holistic viewpoint," Bilder said. "To
understand how these genetic variations are associated with disease
now requires the decoding of the human phenome, the sum of the
physical and behavioral manifestations of those genetic variations and
how they interact with the environment.
"Understanding the fundamental biological bases of neuropsychiatric
disease from the molecule to the mind is an enormous challenge and
will offer a grand challenge to biomedical research for the rest of
the century," he said.
Currently, psychiatrists do not possess the types of laboratory tests
or biological models that can be useful in studying these disorders,
"The diagnostic systems we have in place are widely acknowledged to be
flawed, because the phenotypes we have are not based on research but
are descriptive," he said. "That is, they are based on symptoms we
usually learned about, ironically, from asking patients who have
disorders that make communication difficult.
"We so far lack markers to identify more fundamental deficits," he
said. "We need to drill down and get closer to the specific level
where a gene might be responsible for the process."
That is the goal of the consortium, which will target the behavioral
and cognitive functions thought to underlie such neuropsychiatric
syndromes as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and attention deficit
In a departure from science-as-usual, the consortium will aim to
discover the underpinnings of basic, healthy functioning systems such
as memory and impulse control rather than concentrating on the genetic
anomalies that may be associated with the neuropsychiatric disorders
themselves. By focusing on these healthy brain systems, the
researchers hope to accelerate the discovery of genes that are
relevant to mental disorders and to find new treatments.
Employing a broad approach to attacking this problem, the consortium
team comprises 52 investigators, many affiliated with the Semel
Institute but cutting widely across campus disciplines as well, with
members from the fields of psychiatry, neurology, neurobiology, human
genetics, psychology and computer science collaborating and sharing
data. Subawards will support research in Finland (at the universities
of Helsinki and Oulu), at the University of California, Santa Barbara,
and at the Medical University of South Carolina.
This interdisciplinary approach is a major goal of the consortium,
which is one of nine nationwide being funded by the NIH's Roadmap for
Medical Research program. The Roadmap program is designed not only to
address health challenges that have been resistant to traditional
research approaches but to fundamentally change how research is
conducted, by integrating a wide range of disciplines to attack a
problem. As opposed to multidisciplinary research, which involves
teams of scientists approaching a problem from within their own
disciplines, interdisciplinary research integrates elements from a
wide range of disciplines, often including basic and clinical
research, behavioral biology, and social sciences, so that all of the
scientists may approach the problem in a new way.
"The interdisciplinary research programs within the Roadmap embody a
central goal of this program to help transform the way research is
conducted," said Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH director. "These programs
are designed to encourage and enable change in academic research
culture to make interdisciplinary research easier to conduct for
scientists who wish to collaborate in unconventional ways."
"Our team is thrilled to have this opportunity to forge a unique path
in neuropsychiatry research," Bilder said. "Many scientists and
clinicians already acknowledge major limitations in the current system
for diagnosing and treating patients. We believe the CNP strategy
strongly complements existing approaches and offers new hope for
For more information about the consortium, visit
The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA 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 treatments for
neurological and psychiatric disorders, improve access to mental
health services, and shape national health policy regarding
National Institutes of Health (NIH) News Release:
NIH Launches Interdisciplinary Research Consortia.
Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics
UCLA Semel Institute, Room C8-849
760 Westwood Plaza, CA 90095
Copyright © 2007–2009 Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics
All Rights Reserved.